Why "choose your own adventure" books are still perfect for kids who love gaming

Published on: 11 December 2019 Author: Ian Livingstone

Ian Livingstone talks about Fighting Fantasy game books and why this interactive style of reading has stood the test of time and gotten kids hooked on books. 

Illustration from the front cover of Assassins of Allansia by Ian Livingstone

Fighting Fantasy game books first appeared in the early 1980s. They were the first branching narrative books with a game system attached – hence the term "game book". To date, the series has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Set in worlds of monsters and magic, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks place the reader at the heart of the story, giving them control and giving them choice.

These are interactive books in which YOU are the Hero!

Amazing interactive adventures

Written by Steve Jackson and myself, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain came out in August 1982. It didn’t get off to a flying start. Sales were slow at first, but then something happened. In parts of the country, children bought copies and told their friends about their amazing interactive adventures, battling monsters, demons and dragons, and, ultimately, the evil warlock Zagor. The news travelled.

Playground chat was the viral medium of the day. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain began selling out in bookshops up and down the country. It became a national bestseller. More titles were commissioned. Steve wrote Citadel of Chaos and I wrote The Forest of Doom. I followed that up with City of Thieves, and by the time Deathtrap Dungeon came out in 1984, the books had become international bestsellers.

Writing The Warlock of Firetop Mountain wasn’t easy. It was a new concept – the first branching narrative book with a games system attached to it. The dice-based combat system couldn’t be too complicated and had to work in book format. We had to create monsters and write a thrilling fantasy adventure with multiple choices and multiple endings.

Last but not least, we had to split the task of doing it. I wrote the first half of the book up to the river and Steve wrote the second half. We had to make sure adventure was challenging, the choices had meaningful consequences, and there were no dead ends. And it had to be fun!

My writing process really hasn’t changed over time except that I now type the text into a computer rather than use a fountain pen and paper as I did in the 1980s. I do not use spreadsheets or software packages. I’m strictly "old school" with a hand-drawn map and handwritten notes.

Last year, I put a huge effort into the story planning and writing of my new book, Assassins of Allansia. My goal was to make it difficult for the reader to trust anybody and make them think that everybody they encountered was an assassin. I made sure there were plenty of opportunities to lead people to their doom! I didn’t feel guilty as readers could always the "five-fingered bookmark" to back-track, if necessary.

Books for the video game generation

Being interactive, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks certainly strike a chord with the video game generation. But while video games stimulate the senses, Fighting Fantasy books stimulate the imagination.

Readers play through their own worlds of wonder as they decide which way to journey through the book, finding magical treasure and rolling dice to slay monsters. Adding a games element to the branching narrative with multiple paths and endings make the books compelling.

Choice is empowering. The books are proven to be excellent for reluctant readers, especially boys. While enjoying Fighting Fantasy, readers are at same time learning meta skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and algorithmic thinking.

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Time to read / play

I’m often asked which book is my favourite. My answer is that I don’t have a definitive one, since it’s bit like asking me which one of children is my favourite when I have four!

Obviously, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain has to be up there because it was our first one to be published. But of the Fighting Fantasy books I wrote myself, my favourites are City of Thieves, Deathtrap Dungeon, The Forest of Doom and Assassins of Allansia.

I’m delighted that Fighting Fantasy has stood the test of time. Now it’s YOUR turn. With a sharp sword and a good supply of Potions of SKILL and STAMINA, I’m sure YOU will rise to the challenge.

May all your dice rolls be 6s!

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