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