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Choose Your Own Adventure: “One Book, Many Readings”

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“I suspect this similarity to software-style interaction also points to why this kind of book came about when it did. Interactive gamebooks started to appear in the late 70s, around the same time that Interactive Fiction popped into existence with Colossal Cave Adventure (which begat Zork and, in turn, Infocom). Whether in paper or electronic form, these games all hinge upon movement through a set of static locations: pages in the book, or ‘rooms’ in the text adventure. And from any one of these locations you can move to a new one based on a set of fixed rules. The book might offer you the choice of going to page 13 vs 22 while the game lets you choose rooms to the north, west, or south. This sort of locations-and-transitions structure is known in computer science jargon as a finite state machine, a branch of theory an old classmate summed up as ‘bunches of circles and arrows’. His quip was accurate in that the analysis of these sorts of systems takes the form of drawing out diagrams of transitions between ‘states’. This is useful primarily because humans are so bad at recognizing patterns in tables of subtly coordinated data and so good at it when the information is represented spatially. So if the cyoa books are just another FSM, it should be possible to use some of the same techniques to examine their structure.”

Source: cyoa