Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Game Books

I did not read hard core science fiction till I was into college. But I had actually read books that could pass as science fiction even during my childhood – GI Joe Game books. Very often many of the concepts from serious science fiction are introduced in certain episodes of TV Series like Star Trek and Star Gate, some comic books and also game books like these. Game books are a form of interactive fiction which does not require technology and have existed from long before the more story-like computer games came into existence. Game books have a very interesting facet of good decision making that is somehow still not a part of most of the popular computer games.


A game book is basically a book where the reader makes his own story through the decisions he makes. At the end of every page, the characters will come up against a decision point. Based on the decision he takes, he or she will be lead to a certain page number where story continues based on the decision the reader takes. And then from that page the reader is lead to another page. That way each reader gets a story customized for him or her. Some stories may be long with protagonists dying very early. Some may be longer and multiple storylines might follow different paths and merge at some point. There are lots of possibilities and each book may have as many as 10-15 different stories based on the decisions.

The GI Joe book as such is based on the toys – they are a group of futuristic military group fighting against a terrorist outfit called Cobra. The stories have lot of advanced weapons and span over multiple terrains and usually one of the nine or ten key GI Joe characters is the protagonist of the story. They are somewhat like super heroes – just instead of super power they have some weapon specialty. Each book has a Cobra villain with some diabolic plan and the hero and his team has to travel across various terrains to stop the villains. Decisions are usually around directions to take, whether to trust someone or not, whether to enter some dangerous place or not and other similar things.

I have seen a more complicated version of the game book which has fight sequences as well in addition to decisions. Here the protagonist is given scores in terms of his ability in strength, defense, agility, intelligence etc. So every time he faces a situation, the adversary will have scores and based on both scores and luck factor decided by throw of a dice, outcome of a battle will get decided. That way it is nearer to computer games. The book I saw of this type was a historic fiction focusing on the battle of Normandy. I have also seen a fantasy tale game book around this concept.

Only limitation of this type of game is that number of storylines is limited. Also if a book is of size 200 pages, one story will be usually as small as 70-80 pages. Initially it is thrilling to explore the various paths the story can take but it can get repetitive and boring. Also for some reason this type of books did not become very popular. So it is possible this concept may work better in a medium like computer games. 

Overall I think it is one of the types of fiction definitely to be considered by fantasy, fiction and historic fiction enthusiasts. It will help one think over the what-if of every key decision taken by the characters. And since I have seen these books associated only with these three genres, this is probably even more special for enthusiasts of these genres. 

Coming up next week - Storytelling Games

6 comments:

  1. I was not a fan of these books, mainly because I was obsessive about reading every book completely and, with these, doing that meant you had to keep track of the choices. Seemed too much like work to me :) Probably would work with games a lot better.

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    1. Yeah, Suresh - it can get tedious. But people who are not so obsessive should be all right with it I guess.

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  2. Even if the stories based on games get automatically customized for the player-protagonist, they turn out to be a two-dimensional affair. The absence of inner exploration of the characters at any level renders the proceeding a flatness that may well get boring after a time. That said, there should be room enough for the genre in the scheme of things.

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    1. Well umashankar - it is upto the writer to introduce the inner exploration. Mostly the game books are for children are more shallow readers. So they don't get into inner exploration. But if more serious readers are reading/playing, there maybe someone who writes such books.

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  3. I was not aware of these kind of books...Interesting !

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    1. Yes Jaish - that was my purpose - to introduce these mediums of story telling about which people may not be aware.

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