Monday, October 15, 2007

Escapism for children - 1980s style

When I was in my early teens, I was a bit of a Dungeons and Dragons nerd (I was also a piano lessons nerd, a Spectrum 48K nerd and a Doesn't Do PE Nerd.) Because I didn't have many friends to play Dungeons and Dragons with, I was thrilled that a series of books had been invented in order to let you play these games by yourself. You took the role of a mighty hero (all bulging muscles and a big longsword), and had to navigate a route through a castle or wood or spaceship or whatever. I would wait with baited breath for a new "Adventure gamebook" to come out and then devour it.

This was one of my favourites - Citadel of Chaos. The way the books worked is that you would have a few paragraphs of text and then have to make a choice at the end such as "do you take the left door (go to 15) or the right door (go to 274)?" Sometimes you would go to 274 and just die. Other times you would have to make another choice. There was usually only one way through the book, and it often involved defeating a series of rather tiresome monsters, where you had to roll dice to defeat them. I'm sure nobody actually bothered with the rather tedious (and somewhat risky) dice rolling, but everyone instead pretended they had defeated the monster and then went on to the next paragraph. And I'm sure that when you met one of the many random deaths in the book, most people simply went back and took the alternative choice.

At least they got children reading and using their imaginations - even if they were rather bloody and rewarded you for violence. These days, the whole thing is achieved with a PS3 or a Wii or something - and you don't have to imagine the blood because it is there in all its pixellated glory.

As the 1980s progressed, I discovered that I preferred other sorts of reading, and the books gathered dust on the shelf. I eventually gave most of them to a younger next door neighbour. But I kept hold of Citadel of Chaos, because you never know, do you.

When I got older, I often met adult "role players", who seemed to have got stuck at the stage of development I was at when I was 14. But I thank Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, who are one of my fonder memories from the 1980s (I think I bought so many of those books that I probably funded their swimming pools).


Dessie said...

Oh my god, I thought I was the only one! Forest of Doom was my personal favourite. Did you ever read that one about the Indian spirit ghosts?

And yes, I cheated. I always preferred the story to the game :p

Old Cheeser said...

I remember them well. Of course kids now wouldn't have any patience with playing an adventure game via BOOK, for God's sakes! It has to be on a PC...

Those were the days.