Netflix viewers get to choose their own adventure
Many readers of a certain age will have fond memories of the Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy series of books from their childhood.
The books bridged the gap between literature and role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, which were hugely popular in the 1980s, encouraging youngsters to read while introducing an element of interactivity and decision-making to the printed word. The “gamebook” phenomena as we know it can be traced back to 1976, with the publication of Edward Packard’s Sugarcane Island, the first in the Choose Your Own Adventure series. There were a few earlier trailblazers, though, including Treasure Hunt a 1945 book by the otherwise unknown Alan George, which allowed readers to choose different endings to certain sections.
The genre really took off, however, following the publication in 1982 of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first in the Fighting Fantasy series from, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, the British founders of the Games Workshop store chain.
The book introduced role-playing elements such as diceplay and character abilities to the genre. During the genre’s heyday, more than 100 books were published in the series. The phenomena’s popularity faded after its 1980s peak, as video games stole much of its thunder, though reprints of many of the books continue to be published.
Jackson has also promised a brand new Fighting Fantasy novel, Port of Peril, will be published in August to mark the series’ 35th anniversary.
Now, however, Netflix is looking to give the concept a twist with what we might perhaps christen “Game TV”.
The streaming platform’s first interactive “branching” show Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, which stars Puss in Boots from the Shrek films and was released last week, puts Netflix subscribers in charge of how the story unfolds.
A second interactive series, Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile, will be unveiled on July 14.
“Content creators have a de- sire to tell non- linear stories like these, and Netflix provides the freedom to roam, try new things and do their best work,” says Carla Engelbrecht, director of product innovation at Netflix. “Being an internet-based company enables us to innovate new formats, deliver at scale to millions of members all over the world on multiple device types and, most importantly, learn from it.”
For now, the interactive shows are aimed squarely at children.
“The children’s programming space was a natural place for us to start, because kids are eager to ‘play’ with their favourite characters and already inclined to tap, touch and swipe at screens,” Engelbrecht says. “They also talk to their screens, as though the characters can hear them. Now, that conversation can be two- way. It’s really about finding the right stories – and storytellers – that can tell complex narratives and bring them to life in a compelling way.”
If the children’s shows are successful, it might encourage Net- flix to expand the concept into more grown-up territory – after all, generations of children who grew up on Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy books are now adult Netflix subscribers.
Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale.