When I was a kid, I read a lot. I read classic books like Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, the Hardy Boys detective novel series and whatever else I could get my hands on. I loved reading and I loved escaping into the worlds created in those books.
When I hit my teens, my reading habit really took off. At that point, I started reading a lot adult novels, mostly Stephen King. Salem’s Lot was the first King book I read, and the first proper horror novel I read. After reading that book I knew immediately that I wanted to be a writer. The compulsion to write grew in me from that point on.
As well as adult novels, I also read a lot of young adult and teen fantasy books. The books I enjoyed reading the most were gamebooks as they are known, or Fighting Fantasy to give them their series name, books in which “YOU are the hero!”
Gamebooks are not like conventional novels in that they allow the reader to decide where the story is going to go. Here’s a full explanation from Wikipedia:
The text does not progress in a linear fashion but rather is divided into a series of numbered sections (usually between 300-400). Beginning at the first section, the reader chooses a non-sequential option (e.g. Section 1 to Section 180) which in turn provides an outcome for the decision and advances the story. The story continues in this fashion, the player continuing to choose other numbered sections, until their character is either stopped, killed, or completes the quest.
Fighting Fantasy books typically feature a system whereby the protagonist is randomly assigned scores in three statistics (named Skill, Stamina, and Luck) which, in conjunction with the player rolling a six-sided die, are used to resolve combats and test the protagonist’s success in certain situations. Some titles use additional statistics or additional conflict resolution mechanics. A typical Fighting Fantasy gamebook tasks players with completing a quest, with players then making choices in an attempt to successfully finish the adventure. A successful play of a Fighting Fantasy gamebook usually ends with the player reaching the final numbered section of the book. Many of the titles only feature one path to the solution, and in some cases this can only be achieved by obtaining various story items.
I absolutely loved these books and I devoured the entire collection. At that time there were nearly fifty different books, all with the same distinctive green spines and amazingly cool artwork, just like the ones in the picture below. With titles like, Forest of Doom, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and City of Thieves, I couldn’t go wrong.
Those books were my first introduction to structure when it came to storytelling, to how different choices made within a story can influence the final outcome of the story.
Gamebooks also taught me about world building. Each of the books took place in a different fantasy setting, sometimes in a typical Middle Earth type setting, other times in a sci-fi setting and other times in more urban settings.
Whatever the setting, the worlds within the books always amazed me and I always found myself immersed for hours in these fantastical worlds, loving every minute of it–except when I died and I had to go back and start again (that was annoying!).
The point is, the writers of these books (Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone…geniuses that they are) showed me how it was possible to create a completely imaginary world out of nothing, full of detail and atmosphere. Worlds that completely drew people in and gave them a sense of adventure outside of their normal lives (and as a kid, you really do need that).
Many years later, as I write my own books, I often think about the Fighting Fantasy series, and I try to create worlds and characters that draw readers in (including me as the writer) and give them that same sense of adventure that I experienced as a kid.
My only regret now was that I sold all those books a few years after (probably for beer money as a late teen). I wish I hadn’t. I would love to have them around for inspiration now, and also because I would like to read some of them again. They were that good, most of them.
I’m glad to say that gamebooks are still being written and that the Fighting Fantasy series continues, albeit at a less prolific pace. In the space of just several years, Jackson and Livingstone produced nearly sixty books between them!
These two guys are heroes in the fantasy world. If you want to find out more about the books and the writers, visit the official Fighting Fantasy website.
And if you have never read or played a gamebook, do yourself a favor and go do so!