To Be or Not to Be: An Interactive Approach to Classic Literature

If you grew up in the eighties or nineties, then you very likely saw or even read at least one of the books from the popular kids’ series Choose Your Own Adventure. Readers got to make decisions, both seemingly significant and seemingly insignificant, that led to various endings. Occasionally you might have ended up with a particularly gruesome death as you flipped back through decisions in an attempt to complete as many storylines as possible. Choose-your-own books, choose-your-path books, click-your-own books, and other interactive stories like these are all part of a genre called gamebooks.

Choose-your-own stories are making a big comeback, and this time they’re targeted at adult audiences. One big example of this is Netflix’s interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which swept the internet like a storm in December. (If you’re interested in Bandersnatch and video games, check out Scott MacDonald’s post on the visual choose-your-own story.) But this time, interactive books are coming back for adult readers.

Gamebooks are about being able to play around in a familiar world, make mistakes, and try again. Interactive books for adults do just that, but this time, the majority of choose-your-path books are focusing on classic and well-known stories, rather than the nostalgic stereotypes found in the kids’ series. Interactive books use the stories of classics––Austen, Shakespeare, historical romance––to give adult readers a chance to toy with the literary worlds they have known and loved.

Books like Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure and To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure show rich worlds that have already existed for over a hundred years––with edits, of course. These books use plot arcs specific to the existing world or author to give readers choices.

In My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel, the historical romantic heroine gets sent across the eighteenth-century highlands and into the relationship and story she and the reader want. These paths are risqué and charming, and certainly wouldn’t be as much fun for the reader without background knowledge of romance stereotypes. The tropes make the scandal and adventure all the more interesting and satirical for adult readers. And in the contemporary choose-your-own format, readers can have the option to end their romance with an LGBTQ pairing or a gothic haunted castle.

As interactive books for adult readers emerge on the market, they make an interesting study. While the choose-your-own-path stories appeal to adult readers who remember the legendary Choose Your Own Adventure series, these books tend to resell the classics for adults who want to play around with the old tropes and stories.