Net­flix view­ers get to choose their own ad­ven­ture

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - Chris New­bould

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.


Cour­tesy Net­flix

Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale.

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