Friday, November 12, 2010

An Amazing Adventure: Beans Again

Nobody worry: you can now live out your own amazing adventure, as long as the adventure you crave involves dinner and is about 500 words long. My 120th story-every-day piece is An Amazing Adventure: Beans Again.

I've been thinking about making a CYOA-style piece ever since starting the Moonshot project. The internet is so perfectly suited to handling these stories: it may not have a fix for the genre's inherent hokiness, but it has the interface to present readers with blind, honest choices rather than easily-gamed survival decisions--you just have a set of links at the end of each episode, rather than a pair of page numbers, one of which you may remember following before, to your death at the hooves of a three-headed space giraffe.

I wasn't a huge fan of CYOA books growing up (not due to any refinement of taste, surely, as my reading was largely limited to Goosebumps-series cliffhangers), but I checked out enough from the library that the memories stayed with me. I joked once in grad school that my thesis would involve page jumping and bad illustrations, and somewhere in that span of time Sarah and I swallowed cocktails and actually watched this:

What I remember most is the weirdness of some of the narrative paths; most of the storylines carried you through standard adventure plot points--the crashing of a plane, the deployment of a parachute, camping in the snow--but a few pulled you straight into some writer's idle back-brain fantasy, over an invisible staircase or into a land of talking Yeti (the exact weirdnesses escape my memory). These bizarre strains, although ostensibly "happy endings," struck me as creepy not for their weirdness but for how easily missed they might be, for how they quietly threaded beneath the normalcy of most of the stories.

Bonus Part:

A couple years ago my friend, The Wizard of the Cloud, sent me a copy of Your Amazing Adventures: The Dragonmaster that he found in his parents' house. Your Amazing Adventures, obviously, was a CYOA-style book, even down to the cover art:

The cover exhorts you to "solve the mazes / defeat the evil forces," and indeed you will crawl through many mazes if you read this book. In fact, the entire decision mechanic seems to have been replaced here with navigation of swamps and monster swarms, wherein you find not safety at the end of a path but instruction on where to go next:

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Sarah glanced through the book last night and gave it the same sort of criticism I used earlier: it's too easy to know where you're going, particularly if you know that all the endings are in the back few pages of the book. But maybe these mazes offer a more honest way to get to those endings; you're not likely to choose a finale if you're enjoying the story, but if you stumble on one by accident, well, you can accept the consequences, ignore them and give up the pretense, or just restart at the beginning.

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