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Mapping out the Cognitive Choices of Make Your Own Adventures

Written by Kevin Hodgson
May 05, 2012

I have long been fascinated by the genre of Choose Your Own Adventure books (and how to flip that interest that kids have in those stories by having them plan and write them). I’ve used wikis to have my students create their own, and will probably do that again before the end of the school year, and I have presented the concept of merging technology and writing with those kind of stories that branch out in different directions.

See my Threaded Adventure resource

The other day, I came across a website that just blew my mind. It is a comprehensive look at how Choose Your Adventure stories unfold, and the researcher (whose name I can’t find) took a real analytical approach to what it means to read one of these books. They examined the books across the years, using colors to chart the various endings and choices. Using all sorts of data analysis and graphs, the writer really unpacks the critical thinking that goes into being an active reader. It’s fascinating.

“… their interactive function is to create a gameworld for the reader. This is part of the wonder of these books – they took a pre-existing set of interface conventions designed for utilitarian search tasks and mapped a new activity onto it. They were effectively a new kind of software application for the oldest information-display platform we have.”

from: http://samizdat.cc/cyoa/

I had not really considered the books in terms of gaming, or even software design, and yet … that makes complete sense now that I do consider it. The non-linear, problem-solving approach that puts much of the agency in the hands (or eyes) of the reader makes for such a different kind of experience when you are reading Choose Your Own Adventure stories. It made me wonder about why these kinds of narratives are not more in vogue with apps and ebooks (only to see that, indeed, there is a line of the books now available for the ipad)

CYOB Adventure Graph

On the flip side, having students plan and write these kinds of stories is an interesting endeavor. At least with my sixth graders, some “get it” and some don’t – mainly because of critical thinking skills. Those who get it compose rich stories with multiple exploration points, and some narrative branches will even arc back with others. Those who don’t get it still follow a very linear path — and who can blame them if that is all that they ever read. The use of the powerful “hyperlink” opens up possibilities for this kind of writing, though, whether it be via a wiki or powerpoint or even a folder of Word documents. (or even using Google Docs forms to do the same thing, which is another interesting twist).

And, if you want to stretch it even further, you can now annotate videos on Youtube, and create visual Choose Your Adventure stories. I did this experiment a few months ago when I was writing about mentor texts. Watch the video and click in the video to make your choices. Notice how the viewer is the one with a bit more agency than usual, just as the reader is with the books.

Come join the adventure with The Mysterious Fruit story.

– Kevin

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