just one more geek in a sea of austin techies

August 29, 2012

"Choose Your Own Adventure" Dissected #BookGeek

"Choose Your Own Adventure" (CYOA) books have been around since the 1970's and provided the fundamental pattern for the earliest computer RPGs. A few years ago a very smart person by the name of Christian Swinehart set about studying the composition and workflow of CYOA books.  The resulting 13-month-and-11,000-lines-of-code effort yielded a detailed and informative analysis with a few surprising results.  Perhaps the most appealing aspect was the article's supporting charts which were, quite simply, "gorgeous"...

A serious analysis of CYOA books
Christian Swinehart isn't just a person interested in the parts and processes that make up Choose Your Own Adventure books -- he is a person particularly well-suited to studying the subject:

    Christian Swinehart
      M.F.A. | Graphic Design -- 2005-2008
      Ph.D. | Computational Neuroscience -- 1998-2005
      B.S. | Cognitive Science (Self-developed Major) -- 1994-1998

Basically Christian is a Ph.D.-wielding software developer with experience in graphic design, user interfaces and neuroscience.  (How's that for a kick-butt UX developer!)

A few of Mr. Swinehart's more interesting observations:

  • Over a period of 20 years CYOA books moved to having far fewer "choice" pages in favor of more "linear story" pages.  That is, the typical content evolved to be less "choose your own adventure" and more "straight story".
  • Page progression was more linear in early books and more random in later books, though the number of forward jumps always outnumbered the number of backward jumps.
  • The length of jumps between pages was fairly balanced within each book in both the early books as well as the later books.

Christian offers thoughts on each observation and wows the reader with high-quality charts and graphs.  The beauty of the supporting illustrations may be enough to sway many readers to accept the author's analysis even if the analysis were to be very obviously flawed (it's not, but still...)

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