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Not to be confused with Playbook (disambiguation).

A gamebook is a work of printed fiction that allows the reader to participate in the story by making choices. The narrative branches along various paths, typically through the use of numbered paragraphs or pages. Production of new gamebooks in the West decreased dramatically during the nineties as choice based stories have moved away from print based media.


There are three types of gamebooks.

  • The first is the branching-plot novel, which require the reader to make choices but are otherwise like a regular novel. These Gamebooks are sometimes informally called choose your own adventure books or CYOA which is the name of the well known Choose Your Own Adventure series originally published by Bantam Books.
  • The second type is the Solitaire adventure (an example of this is the Tunnels and Trolls series of gamebooks), which combines the branching-plot novel with the rules of a role-playing game, allowing the game to be played without a Gamemaster but may require the purchase of separate manuals.
  • The third type is the Adventure gamebook (examples of these are the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf series of gamebooks), which combines the branching-plot novel with a simple role-playing system unique to the book (or series).[1]

In all gamebooks, the story is presented as a series of sections of printed text. Branching-plot novel sections often run to several pages in length, whereas RPG and adventure gamebook sections are usually no longer than a paragraph or two. At the end of a text section, the reader is usually given a choice of narrative branches that they may follow. Each branch contains a reference to the number of the paragraph or page that should be read next if that branch is chosen (e.g. to go north turn to section 98). The story continues this way until a paragraph or page which ends that branch of the story. In most RPG or adventure gamebooks, there is usually one "successful" ending, and the remainder are "failures."[2] Branching plot novels, on the other hand, tend to be more concerned with narrative resolution rather than winning or losing, thus often have several endings which may be deemed "successful".

Gamebooks are typically written in the second person with the reader assuming the role of a character (e.g. 'you walk into the hall').

Many titles are usually published in series containing several books, although individual gamebooks have also been published. While the books in many series are stand-alone narratives, others continue the narrative from the previous books in the series.

History Of Gamebooks[edit]

Pioneering efforts (1940s–1970s)[edit]

The gamebook format was speculated on before it actually existed. Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges' Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain, published in 1941, featured an author, whose novel is a three-part story containing two branch points, and with nine possible endings.[3][4] Borges' later work El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan ("The Garden of Forking Paths") describes a Chinese writer who goes into seclusion to write a book and construct a maze, the twist being that the end result is a combination of the two, but in one item the novel is a maze-like narrative which only makes sense if read in the correct manner. Borges' book requires the reader to use deduction to determine the correct order of reading, rather than providing instructions like the modern gamebook.[4][5]

Branching-path books first emerged in the late fifties, although the first uses of the format were educational rather than literary. The idea of using specially prepared books to allow students to learn without a teacher is credited to American behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner. The way this type of programmed learning works is:

Students choose from multiple-choice answers and then are prompted to proceed to another page of the book depending on their answer. If a correct answer is given, students move on to another page with more information to learn and more questions to answer. An incorrect answer leads to comments on why the answer is incorrect and a direction to return to the original question to make another selection."[6]

The TutorText series of interactive textbooks, published in the United States and United Kingdom between 1958 and 1972, used this method to teach a wide variety of subjects to a mainstream audience.[7] Programmed learning books were acknowledged by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone as an influence on the development of fiction gamebooks.

It is difficult to pin the origins of gamebooks down to a specific time and place, since there were nearly simultaneous early developments in several different languages and countries. If we leave aside the programmed learning books, the idea of using the format for literary purposes seems partly to have been motivated by a heightened interest in literary experimentation during the sixties. The experimental French literary group Oulipo (active during the 1960s) discussed the gamebook format under the name "tree literature." Within Oulipo, François Le Lionnais proposed the idea and Raymond Queneau implemented it in his short story "Un conte à votre façon." Oulipo also applied the idea to theatre, with Paul Fournel and Jean-Pierre Énard implementing this in the form of The Theater Tree: A Combinatory Play.[8][9][10]

Another early example of use of the form for literary experimentation is the work of American writer John Sladek, who towards the end of the sixties published the short stories Alien Territory and The Lost Nose: a Programmed Adventure.[11][12]

At nearly the same time, there were other early developments which were meant as mass entertainment. Lucky Les, a book by E.W. Hildick published in 1967, constitutes an example. The book allowed the reader to determine the fate of a cat by making choices and turning pages accordingly.[13][14] In this same vein, author Dennis Guerrier and some collaborators tried their hand at the medium in 1969, with an interactive thriller, a political simulation and programmed solitaire games Boxes and Noughts and Crosses (which show the influence of programmed learning methods).[15] Another early example was Den mystiska påsen, a Swedish book published in 1970, which involved a bag of stolen gems.[16][17] In 1971, Italian author Gianni Rodari wrote Tante Storie per Giocare, a book of fantasy tales for children which allowed them to choose among several endings.

Popularization (1970s–onwards)[edit]

Branching-path books[edit]

The popularization of gamebooks began in the seventies, spearheaded by several developments in the English-speaking world. The Tracker series of gamebooks, possibly the first gamebooks to be published as a series, featured interactive adventures covering a range of genres.[18] Twelve titles were released in the United Kingdom during the period ranging from 1972 to 1980. Aimed at older children, they can be considered a precursor to the more popular Choose Your Own Adventure series.

American author Edward Packard claims to have come up with the idea of branching-path novels while telling bedtime stories to his three children in the late sixties. He wrote his first such book, Sugarcane Island in 1969, and it saw publication in 1976, thus beginning the Adventures of You series. It was soon joined by Journey Under the Sea by R. A. Montgomery.

Both authors took the idea of creating interactive books to Bantam, and thus the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series was born in 1979, beginning with The Cave of Time. The series became immensely popular worldwide and several titles were translated into more than 25 languages.[19] The series reached the peak of its popularity with children in the eighties. It was during this period that Bantam released several other interactive series to capitalize on the popularity of the medium (a few examples are: Choose your Own Adventure for Younger Readers, Time Machine and Be An Interplanetary Spy). Many other American publishers released their own series to compete with CYOA. One of the most popular competitors seems to have been TSR, who released several branching-path novels based on their own role-playing games. The most famous TSR series was Endless Quest. Another strong competitor was Ballantine with their Find Your Fate series, which featured adventures in the Indiana Jones, James Bond and Doctor Who universes. Famous author R. L. Stine wrote several books for this line, and also for other series such as Wizards, Warriors and You. Several Choose your Own Adventure spin-offs and many competing series were translated into other languages.

Branching-path books also started to appear during the eighties in several other countries, including Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Chile, and Denmark. In some other countries, publication both of translated series and of original books began in later years. For example, the first original books in Brazil and Italy seem to have appeared in the nineties. Translated editions of Choose your Own Adventure and other Western series only appeared in Eastern European countries after the fall of Communism.[20]

This type of book was seen predominantly as a form of entertainment for children. Nonetheless, there were books with more didactic purposes (ranging from historical series such as the aforementioned Time Machine to books with religious themes such as the Making Choices series). Also, a few branching-path books were aimed at adults, ranging from business simulations to works of erotica.

The branching-path book commercial boom dwindled in the early nineties, and the number of new series diminished. However, new branching-path books continue to be published to this day in several countries and languages. Choose your Own Adventure went on to become the longest running gamebook series with 185 titles. The first run of the series ended in 1998.[21][22][23][24][25]

R. A. Montgomery started rereleasing some Choose Your Own Adventure titles in 2005. His company has also released some new titles. New books and series continue to be published in other countries to this day. Examples are the 1000 Gefahren series in Germany and the Tú decides la aventura series in Spain.

Outside the English-speaking world[edit]

Despite the domination of works that have been translated from English in most non-English speaking countries, a sizable number of original gamebooks—both individual books and series—have been published in various countries; this is especially the case in France (e.g. the La Saga du Prêtre Jean series).[citation needed]

In the 1990s, the gamebook genre became highly popular in Bulgaria for approximately ten years.[26] Whilst internationally well-known series such as Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy were translated for the Bulgarian market, the works of numerous Bulgarian gamebook authors were most popular with readers.

During the popularity peak of gamebooks in Bulgaria, Bulgarian publishing houses believed that only Western authors would sell and, as a consequence, virtually all Bulgarian gamebook authors adopted English pseudonyms.[26][27] This tradition persisted after their nationality was publicly disclosed. A smaller number of Hungarian authors also adopted Western pseudonyms, in addition to "official titles" that were also in English.[28]

Several adventure gamebooks have been released in the Czech Republic and Russia. In Azerbaijan, Narmin Kamal's novel, Open It's Me, offers the reader a choice to either read the book as a random collection of thirty-nine short stories about the same character, or as a single novel. A photo of the book's hero is published on the final page and the author asks the reader questions about the character.

Gamebook types[edit]

Mainstream fiction[edit]

While most gamebooks have traditionally being aimed at young audiences, there have been several attempts to write adult-oriented branching path stories. Barring the aforementioned works of Dennis Guerrier in the sixties, one of the earliest examples of the form is the five-volume Barcelona, Maxima Discrecion series, which adapted the noir fiction genre to an interactive form.[29] Published in the eighties, this series was only available in Catalan and Spanish.

Heather McElhatton published a bestselling[30] gamebook for adults in 2007, called Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel. It was followed by a sequel titled Million Little Mistakes published in 2010.[31]

Some contemporary literary novels have used the gamebook format, including Kim Newman's Life's Lottery (1999) and Nicholas Bourbaki's If (2014).[32]


In 2011, McGraw-Hill Education began releasing adaptations of the original Choose Your Own Adventure titles as graded readers. The stories were retold in simplified language and re-organized plotlines, in order to make them easier for English as a second or foreign language readers to play. The choice format of gamebooks has proved to be popular with ESL teachers as a way to motivate reluctant students, target critical thinking skills, and organize classroom activities.[33]


Various erotic gamebooks have been published by major publishers. In 1994 Derrière la porte by Alina Reyes was published by Pocket Books France and Éditions Robert Laffont, and later translated into English for Grove Press and Weidenfeld & Nicolson (as Behind Closed Doors) and into Italian for Ugo Guanda Editore (as Dietro le porte). Melcher Media in 2003 packaged two "Choose-Your-Own-Erotic-Adventure" books for Penguin Books' Gotham Books imprint, including Kathryn in the City by Mary Anne Mohanraj, a well-known writer of erotica.

Role-playing solitaire adventures[edit]

Solitaire adventures were a parallel development. This type of book is intended to allow a single person to use the rules of a role-playing game to experience an adventure without need of a referee. The first role-playing game solitaire adventures to be published were those using the Tunnels and Trolls system, beginning with the book Buffalo Castle in 1976, making Tunnels and Trolls the first role-playing game to support solitaire play. Flying Buffalo released 24 solo adventure books (plus several pocket size adventures) in the period 1976–1993. A number of the adventures are still in print today.[34][35] They were very successful among players of role-playing games and inspired many imitators.

Another early role-playing game with solitaire modules made for it was The Fantasy Trip. The first such module was Death Test, published in 1978. Eight adventures were released in total. One thing that set them apart was the need for miniatures and a hexmap, in order to take advantage of the combat and movement systems. These adventures were also very popular and influential.

Meanwhile, several third-party publishers started to publish solitaire adventures meant for use with popular roleplaying systems. Some of the earliest adventures in this vein were The Solo Dungeon (1978) by British author Richard Bartle, and Survival of the Fittest (1979), published by Judges' Guild in the United States. Both of these adventures were meant to be used with Dungeons and Dragons rules.

Solitaire role-playing adventures also experienced a boom in the eighties. Many role-playing rulesets included solo adventures which were intended to teach the rules systems to the players. Some companies released lines of solitaire adventures for their own games. Examples of games with prolific solitaire lines were Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, Das Schwarze Auge, DC Heroes, and Call of Cthulhu. Some third-party publishers continued to release solo adventures for established RPG systems (including Judges' Guild, who released solos for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons). Solitaire adventures were also featured quite frequently in professional RPG magazines and fanzines. Several solo adventures (such as those for Tunnels & Trolls, Dungeons & Dragons, and Das Schwarze Auge) were translated into other languages.

As was the case with other types of gamebooks, the production of solitaire RPG adventures decreased dramatically during the nineties. However, new solos continue to be published to this day. Some companies continue to produce solo adventures for Tunnels & Trolls. There are also new solo adventures for a variety of systems, and even some influenced by the Fantasy Trip solos (such as the ones by Dark City Games). The Internet has provided a channel to distribute solitaire adventures, with both free and commercial adventures made available as electronic documents.

Adventure gamebooks[edit]

Adventure gamebooks incorporate elements from Choose Your Own Adventure books and role-playing solitaire adventures. The books involve a branching path format in order to move between sections of text, but the reader creates a character as in a role-playing game, and resolves actions using a game-system. Unlike role-playing solitaire adventures, adventure gamebooks include all the rules needed for play in each book. Adventure gamebooks are usually not divided into numbered pages, but rather into numbered sections of text, so that several sections may fit in a single page, or a single section can span several pages.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was published in 1982, the first of what became the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks, one of the first adventure gamebook series. With over 60 titles, including a variety of spin-offs, the series popularised the gamebook format in the UK and many other countries, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, the United States, Portugal, Tanzania, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Israel, Japan, and after the fall of communism, Eastern Europe.[36][37] In 1981, American author Jeffrey C. Dillow published the first solo adventure book for his High Fantasy role-playing game, entitled High Fantasy, that was followed by Adventures in High Fantasy (1981) and Goldchester: More Adventures in High Fantasy (1982).[38]

Adventure gamebooks experienced a publishing boom in the eighties, most notably in the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy and France. British series such as Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, and The Way of the Tiger were translated into several languages and became very popular worldwide. The boom decreased considerably in the nineties, with Fabled Lands being the last major British gamebook series. In the 2000s, reissues of the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf series emerged, and garnered some commercial success.[citation needed]

Several authors in different countries continue to publish adventure gamebooks to this day. Notable examples are German fantasy authors Wolfgang Hohlbein and Markus Heitz, and British author Jonathan Green.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions on". 
  2. ^ Staff. "What Is Fighting Fantasy?". Fighting Fantasy. ICON (Wizard) Books Ltd. Retrieved 27 May 2012. 
  3. ^ "Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain on". 
  4. ^ a b "Miscellaneous Works by Jorge Luis Borges on". 
  5. ^ "El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan on". 
  6. ^ "Programmed Learning - Operant Conditioning, Students, and Answers - JRank Articles". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  7. ^ "TutorText on". 
  8. ^ "Un conte à votre façon on". 
  9. ^ "The Theater Tree: A Combinatory Play on". 
  10. ^ "Miscellaneous Works by the Oulipo on". 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Alien Territory". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  13. ^ "Lucky Les on". 
  14. ^ "Lucky Les (2) on". 
  15. ^ "Miscellaneous Works by Dennis Guerrier on". 
  16. ^ "Den mystiska påsen on". 
  17. ^ "Den mystiska påsen (2) on". 
  18. ^ "Tracker Books on". 
  19. ^ "Choose Your Own Adventure". 2004-06-09. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Sugarcane Island on". 
  22. ^ "Journey Under the Sea on". 
  23. ^ "The Adventures of You on". 
  24. ^ "The Cave of Time on". 
  25. ^ "Choose Your Own Adventure on". 
  26. ^ a b Hakop & J0K3RA (2006-11-15). "Цитаделата". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  27. ^ "Items Published in Bulgaria". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  28. ^ Demian Katz (1998–2012). "Items Published in Hungary". Demian's Gamebook Web Page. Demian Katz. Retrieved 27 May 2012. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Boston Globe bestseller list for paperback fiction: June 5, 2007". 2007-06-05. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  31. ^ Kerr, Euan. "Author lets readers choose what to do with lottery millions" Minnesota Public Radio September 26, 2010
  32. ^ "INTERVIEW: Nicholas Bourbaki, author of If". 2014-11-08. Retrieved 2014-11-12. 
  33. ^ Ferlazzo, Larry. "The best places to read and write "choose your own adventure" stories". Retrieved 5 December 2012. 
  34. ^ "Buffalo Castle on". 
  35. ^ "Tunnels and Trolls on". 
  36. ^ "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain on". 
  37. ^ "Fighting Fantasy on". 
  38. ^ "subject:"High Fantasy (Game)"". Google Books. Google Inc. 2013. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 

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