I think what makes electronic games so appealing to kids (and some adults) is the simple, yet engaging, act of being allowed to make choices. In techno-speak, this is what’s referred to as a sense of agency. Good games have it. This is also what makes the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) story, now enjoying a recent return to the spot-light thanks to the iPad, still a favorite among kids today and the adults who remember them from thirty years ago.
The basic idea hasn’t changed. You, as the reader, are the main character in the story and make choices that steer the story along a particular path. If your choice leads you to a dead end, you start over and play the story again. I really enjoyed these stories as a teenager and wondered how my current middle school students would respond to them. Could reading and creating their own CYOA stories help them learn that many effective stories jump right to the action and develop tension in a story quickly? After just one project, I don’t have the hard data to answer that question yet, but it was clear the students had a lot of fun “playing” each others’ stories.
Each student in our school has a MacBook, which provides them with two very easy tools for creating their own CYOA story. Keynote and iWeb both allow you to easily link slides or web pages to create the hyper-linked story. Students worked with both of these programs earlier in the school year to publish a website about their family heritage. A small amount of class time was needed to review how to link slides in Keynote and how to link blank pages in iWeb. Students were able to publish their iWeb CYOA stories to our school server.
Student Produced CYOA Stories Created Using iWeb
Before opening Keynote or iWeb, students developed their story using their mind-mapping tool of choice (Inspiration 8.0) while others used the good old fashioned index cards to chart the choices they would provide to the reader. We read/played the CYOA story I created as a sample, along with a few stories in print and online, to get a feel for how much to write for each choice. This part of the project probably needed more direct teaching. Too many students wrote only a sentence or two for each story choice, which resulted in stories that felt more like Mad Libs.
We had been reading The Giver by Lois Lowry, a story about a community that has removed choice among other things. Students were encouraged to create CYOA stories using the characters and plot from the Newbery Award winning novel, writing an alternate storyline that gave the characters unique choices. This might have worked better if the students had more prior experience with creating CYOA stories. Instead, many stories featured attacks by bears, eating dead birds and other unrealistic story choices. We’ll see how the second round of stories turns out when I allow them to create any type of storyline. I assessed the stories looking for characters that attempted to accomplish a clear goal and how engaging were the types of choices provided to the reader.
The future of the CYOA story is one to watch closely. One reason the iPad and all hand-held touch devices are such a success is because they capitalize on our desire to make choices and to be actively engaged in something. Reading and writing do not always seem like interactive experiences, but as these are re-defined during the 21st century, I think we will see the CYOA format become the dominant model of how we consume digital media.
Kate Pullinger and the Bradford Company have created the captivating serial inanimatealice that illustrates a wonderful example of the CYOA model in effect. Students at the Pascoe Vale Elementary School have re-mixed the story using Powerpoint. I hope somebody can soon lower the Flash learning curve to allow students to create interactive elements like those in inanimatealice.
Student Produced CYOA Stories in Keynote and Powerpoint
More Choose Your Own Adventure style games online and available for your iTouch devices….
- The original book series ported to the iPhone
- Choice of the Dragon
- iStory – too bad that it doesn’t seem to be supported any more
- Frotz - if you want more of a game feel to your story, move onto INTERACTIVE FICTION