October 25, 2007

If you decide to turn in Anne Frank for the reward, turn to page 76

Back when I was a kid, Choose Your Own Adventure Books had stories about pirates, space aliens and the lost continent of Atlantis. But by the time the 90s rolled around, the fantasy well had apparently started to dry up, and the series began flirting with historical content, notably these two books about slavery and the Holocaust.

CYOA163.jpg cyoa+Underground+Railroad.jpg

It should go without saying that in these books YOU are the white/Aryan boy who must choose whether (or, more likely, how) to help the runaway slaves/Jews. My first reaction when I stumbled across this was... well, probably the same as yours, assuming that you're still scraping your jaw off the floor. But since I recently made a case for more grown-up videogames, perhaps there's a similar argument to be made about CYOA books. Is the very idea of these books necessarily as offensive as it seems?

Probably these books are most analagous to the well-intentioned propaganda of those serious games about Darfur and humanitarian relief, etc. that nobody actually wants to play. I haven't actually read these two books, but the author went on to write a couple of those problem novels so beloved by educators, so it's a safe bet that they are conscientious and edumacational and all that. Which doesn't necessarily mean they're a good idea.

Use the comments to weigh in, share your own CYOA memories, or provide captions for these book covers.

Related: One of the founders of the CYOA series has his own blog.

Update: Also related: CYOA books that never quite made it. Hat tip: J.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Caption for book 1:

"I hope those Nazis don't notice I've defiantly painted my swastika counterclockwise instead of clockwise!"

Caption for book 2:

"Let's save the high fives until we're safely out of slave territory, shall we?"

Fritz recoiled in horror at his faux pas - those stars were supposed to be painted in yellow.

Young Bill loved panicking the runaways by asking "Tickets please".

This must be the "Create Your Own Caption Contest" contest.
1) Betrachten Sie die Abbildung, die ich gemalt habe. Mein Gott, sie erschrickt sogar mich.
2) N-word please! Them tracks be OVERground. You wantin' the UNDERground railroad. Follow me."

If I actually had read all the words in the entry, I would have seen the suggestion that captions be provided and not thought it was a CYOCC.

"Wha..? What was that!? Oh, it's just some of our dear Germany's finest soldiers. Guten tag!"

"You said your old man wouldn't be angry if he walked in on one of our S&M sessions..."

It doesn't seem that offensive to me. I'm sure there's zero ambiguity about the "correct" choices. Plus, I remember even the alien stories having their fair share of creepiness.

"Who Killed Harlow Thrombey?" was my favorite CYOA book. If I remember correctly, the killer revealed him/herself by claiming to have heard someone's footsteps through the walls of a soundproof room? Or something like that. Anyway, I haven't read the new books, but the cover art reminds me of the vintage Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books. As for the topic, I think I might be more interested if YOU were the person trying to escape.

I think I might be more interested if YOU were the person trying to escape.

I'm sorry, Deborah. It's one thing to ask a reader to imagine himself as an astronaut or a time-traveler. But a black lady? Forget it.

...It's one thing to ask a reader to imagine himself as an astronaut or a time-traveler. But a black lady? Forget it.

You're right, it's probably too crazy. I guess I'd rather skip the whole thing then and watch old films of the Milgram experiment instead.

I'm sure there's zero ambiguity about the "correct" choices.

That's why all CYOA novels, whatever the topic, suck. I remember reading one about a samurai or ninja or something where every time you decide to kill someone you end up with a "losing" ending. What fun is that?

Oh, and I thought CYOA meant "Cover Your Own A**"

I'm having a hard time not reading it as "Curb Your OAnthusiasm."

Slide - Curb Your OnAnism?

Caption One: Look at the size of that Jew! Those soldiers don't stand a chance. Only Lobstra can save us!

Caption Two: I need you to man up and be a real father to our son, Strom.

I like the hybrid "Curb Your Onanthusiasm."

1. "Holy Cripes! What the hell is this - Nazi Germany?"

2. "If you don't cut that babblin' and bawlin' out right now, I'm a smack the shit outa you."

I fondly remember "Inside UFO 54/40". If I recall, the way to win was... [SPOILER ALERT!!!] Flip through the book randomly and stumble upon the "utopia" which was a two page spread not referenced anywhere in the story (i.e., you could never get there by choosing a storyline). Also, Voldemort kills Harry.

mypalmike - Yeah, I never read that one, but I just read about it on wikipedia. That's pretty genius, if you ask me. I would have loved it as a kid.

By the way, it turns out all the endings of Shadow of the Swastika are "This storyline has been ended due to Godwin's Law."

1) Scheisse, if Hitler makes our boys run in full uniform, carrying guns, they will never beat Jesse Owens.
2) Shit, even in shackles, carrying a child, this broad can keep up with me. That does it, we will not allow negroes in the Olympics.

I HATED "54/40". I probably read it front to back 20 times trying to figure out the ending, because I refused to believe the "solution" was that stupid.

(I think the Wikipedia description is inaccurate, btw. There was no congratulations, just a picture of what Utopia looked like. Unless my memory is faulty [highly possible] or it was changed for later editions.)

Dashiell - WIkipedia is never inaccurate.

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