If you grew up in the ‘80s or ‘90s then you very likely saw or even read at least one of the books from the popular kid’s Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series. Readers got to make decisions, both seemingly significant and insignificant that lead to various endings. Occasionally you might end up with a particularly gruesome death, flipping back through decisions until you completed as many storylines and ending as possible. Choose-your-own, choose-your-path, click-your-own and other interactive books like these are part of a genre called gamebooks.
Choose-your-own stories are making a big comeback, and this time they’re targeted at adult audiences. One big example of this is Netflix’s interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which swept the internet like a storm in December. (Side note: if you’re interested in Bandersnatch and video games check out Scott MacDonald’s post on the visual choose-your-own story.) But this time, CYO books are coming back for adult readers.
Interactive books like these are about being able to play around in a familiar world, make mistakes, and try again. CYO books for adults do just that, but this time, the majority of choose-your-path books are focusing on classic and well-known stories rather than the nostalgic stereotypes found in the kids' series. Interactive books use the stories of classics––Austen, Shakespere, Romance––to give adult readers a chance to toy with the literary worlds they have known a loved.
Books like Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure and To Be or Not To Be: A Choosable-Path Adventure show rich worlds that have already existed for over a hundred years––with edits of course. In these books, readers use plot arcs, specific to the existing world or author, to give readers choices.
In My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance the historical romantic heroine gets galavant across the eighteenth-century highlands, into the relationship and story she and the reader want. These paths are risque and charming, and certainly wouldn't be as much fun for the reader without all of the background knowledge of romance stereotypes. The tropes make the scandal and adventure all the more interesting and satirical for adult readers. And in the contemporary choose-your-own format, readers can have the option to end their romance with an LGBTQ pairing or a gothic haunted castle.
Interactive books for adult readers are an interesting study as they reemerge on the market. While the choose-your-own-path stories appeal to adult readers who remember the legendary Choose-Your-Own-Adventre brand, these books tend to resell the classics for adults who want to play around with the old tropes and stories.