Media Inquiry 1: CYOA

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

For this assignment you will read and analyze a book from the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series of “gamebooks.” This series was originally published between 1979 and 1998, although many hardcore fans only recognize the first fifty or so books as “true” CYOA. In this project you will think of the CYOA books as ergodic texts, that is, interactive texts which open up multiple paths for their readers.

There are several steps to the project:

(1) On Thursday, September 4, each student will get one CYOA book to borrow from me. Read the book, several times, exploring the multiple paths.

(2) Map the book. This will take longer than simply reading the book. To give you an idea of what I have in mind, here is 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. (See my full-size map in a new window.)

The Cave of TIme

In addition to CMapTools, which has an invaluable “auto-arrange” feature, there are other tools you might want to try. Bubbl.us allows you to make maps of this sort online. You can try Powerpoint or Visio, which are installed in the labs on campus. You can even use pen and paper, like this map.

You don’t have to follow these examples exactly, but you must map the entire structure of the book in an intuitive way that makes the decisions, connections, and paths in the book fully visible. Use colors, dotted lines, varying box sizes, etc. In general, you want to include as much information about the narrative structure of your book as you can without sacrificing clarity.

Be sure to provide a legend or a key that helps decipher your map. This legend might identify different categories of endings or distinguish different kinds of paths from each other. It might classify the kinds of choices presented to the reader. It might include statistics about the number of decision-making opportunities in the book, the number of discrete paths, the number of possible endings, and so on. There are many other characteristics of your map that might be fitting for a legend; it’ll be up to you to decide.

(3) A rough draft of this map is due Thursday, September 11. In class on that day we will compare maps and exchange advice on the mapping process.

(4) Polish the rough draft of your map into a final version. This final version will be due on Tuesday, September 16, along with the analysis outlined below.

(5) Now you’re ready for the analysis part of this assignment. First, identify which of Marie-Laure Ryan’s “Structures of Interactive Narrativity” (from Narrative as Virtual Reality, pages 246-256) fits your CYOA book best. Write a paragraph explaining your reasoning.

Finally, wrap up your inquiry with a 400-500 word analysis.

In this analysis, consider what your map reveals about the CYOA book that a casual reading would not reveal. Some questions you might want to address include, but are not limited to, the following: What surprised you about the map? Are some paths more significant than others? Are there major and minor paths, and if so, what’s the difference between them? Is there anything about the longest path on your map that distinguishes it from other paths, aside from its length? Is it “privileged” in any way, in the kinds of decisions the reader faces? Can the kind of decisions presented to the reader be categorized? Is there any correlation between the length of the path and the kinds of decisions the reader makes? Is there any logic to the narrative interruptions and when and where they occur? Is your map significantly different from the rough draft maps you saw of your classmates? If so, how? Do the differences or similarities between the maps reveal any important information about the books? Why did you choose to include certain information in your legend and exclude other information?

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 — on hardcopy or online — the project (one maps and analysis) is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, September 16. You’ll also return your borrowed CYOA book then.

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