CYOA Analysis

(closely adapted from a project designed by Professor Matthew Kirschenbaum at the University of Maryland-College Park, with his kind permission)

For this assignment you will read/play and analyze a book from the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series of "gamebooks." This series was published between 1979 and 1998, although many hardcore fans only recognize the first fifty or so books as "true" CYOA. I have said in class that CYOA books were precursors to the more full-fledged "ergodic" hypertexts we’ll be looking at this semester. In this project you will take me to task for that statement, examining the CYOA books both for their own merits and for what they have to tell us about the history and theory of interactive texts.

There are several steps to the project.

(1) Read/play the book, several times, exploring the multiple paths.

(2) Map the book. This will take much longer than simply reading the book. To give you an idea of what I have in mind, here is one example:


Andrew Stern's CYOA Map

The author of this map, Andrew Stern, observes: "Each node in the graph contains one or more page numbers in it, signifying a linear sequence of one or more pages. A doubly-circled node indicates a story ending. The story structure seems to be primarily composed of four major paths (hi-lit in yellow), each with lots of little ending offshoots. Occasionally there is some interesting interconnectedness, particularly that cluster on the left middle of the page. In two places a path backtracks quite a distance to connect to a different path; one of them I drew as a dotted line, because it was so lame — you are abducted by aliens, your memory is erased, and you start the story again from almost the beginning."

Your map can be more sophisticated, like the map of The Third Planet from Altair, done by Greg Lord, a student in Professor Kirschenbaum’s class.

I’ve created my own map of the first book in the series, The Cave of Time, using the freely available, multi-platform concept mapping tool, CMapTools.

You don’t have to follow any of these formats exactly, but you must map the entire structure of the book in an intuitive way that makes the connections and paths in the book fully visible. Provide a legend or a key that helps decipher your map. Also, explain your graphing methodology, as Stern does, and note what you find interesting about your map. What does the map reveal about your book that a casual reading/playing of the book would not reveal?

(3) Next, identify which of Marie-Laure Ryan’s "Structures of Interactive Narrativity" (from Narrative as Virtual Reality, pages 246-256) fits your CYOA best. Write a paragraph explaining your reasoning. You may not find an exact match, but you must pick one and argue your selection.

(4) Finally, write 500 words discussing your CYOA book as a cybertext. You’ll want to use the vocabulary and ideas of the theorists we’ve read so far this semester: Espen Aarseth, Jay David Bolter, Marie-Laure Ryan, even Italo Calvino. You may want to begin this short essay by reflecting upon how your particular CYOA plays with form and narrative structure, and to what end. What does the CYOA form do well and where does it fail? Avoid personal evaluative statements (like "I really liked this" or "this sucked") and instead write with a critical, analytical tone ("I was intrigued by how the narrative flow didn’t always break at key, suspenseful moments. This is important because…").

Other details:

It is up to you how you develop this project: as a written assignment or as an online assignment. I’d love to see smart use of the technology of the web, but it won’t hurt your grade if this project is done entirely on paper.

In either case, the project is due by the beginning of class on Thursday, September 28. You’ll also return your borrowed CYOA book then.