CYOAs vs Choice in Video Games

As an assignment for this class, I read Mystery of The Maya, a Choose Your Own Adventure novel about a young man who travels to Mexico to find his missing friend and encounters many supernatural things along the way. Because it is a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, there are multiple places throughout the book where the reader can choose between different paths. Some choices lead to you finding your friend, others lead to you being put in extreme danger, and one leads to you being carried off in a UFO. I decided to think about this book compared to Undertale, a game in which your choices also affect the ending of the game, comparing them based on levels of satisfaction I got upon completion and the linearity of their stories.

Though I am slightly biased as it is my favorite game, I got much more satisfaction from finishing Undertale than I did from finishing this novel. And I think I would feel the same comparing any two video games and CYOA novels. Though I enjoyed CYOA novels a lot when I was younger, I feel that the fact that they give you “choices” is not as fulfilling as a game that gives you choices. After going through the book the first time, I went back to the beginning and systematically went through each ending in less than three hours. On the other hand, if I ever decide to repeatedly play Undertale in order to get every ending possible, it would take days if not weeks. What makes Undertale and other games with choices fulfilling is the fact that undoing those choices after finishing the game takes more than two minutes. On top of that, Undertale is not a super easy game and going through the game requires dying quite a few times, so completing it feels like an actual accomplishment, not just a chore as I flip back and forth between pages.

In terms of story, I noticed that the narrative in Mystery of the Maya was not very “linear” for lack of a better word coming to mind. What I mean by this is that when I would take a route different from the previous one, events that occurred before (that had nothing to do with my choice) would no longer occur, like a butterfly effect. For example, one path leads to a UFO showing up and taking people, but if I choose another path, there is no mention of the UFO. In Undertale, on the other hand, though my actions affect the way I am treated and the possible endings, other events are not affected by my choices. The only exception to this being the reveal of the protagonist’s identity (from what I have heard of other endings). Though I prefer Undertale’s narrative choice, I must say that I enjoy the CYOA’s idea of one choice having a butterfly effect on the rest of the world.

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