Home / Musings / Memoirs of an Unreformed Nerd 5: Collecting Gamebooks
Memoirs of an Unreformed Nerd 5: Collecting Gamebooks

Memoirs of an Unreformed Nerd 5: Collecting Gamebooks

Over the Easter long weekend I was up in Bendigo with my family. If you’ve never been there, Bendigo is an old gold rush town about 2 hours drive northwest of Melbourne, Australia. Its name sounds like it could be taken from an Aboriginal language, but in a typically absurd chain of connections that could only have happened in colonial Australia, Bendigo was named after a creek, which was named after a local shepherd, who was nicknamed for his supposed resemblance to a famous 19th century English bareknuckle boxer, who got his nickname “Bendigo” because his Cockney fans found it easier to say than his actual, Biblically-inspired name of “Abednego.”

The Bendigo Easter Fair was on, which was hardly surprising given the time of year and location. Bendigo always puts on a gala(h) event, attracting people from as far away as Castlemaine, Mandurang and even Boort. The centerpiece of the Bendigo Easter Fair is the parade on Sunday that goes down the main street of Pall Mall, which I have on good confidence from a local historian was named either after the cigarettes or the place on the Monopoly board. This year the parade was dominated by an unholy coalition of Highland pipe bands, heavy military vehicles and Marilyn Monroe impersonators. It’s all capped off by the appearance of Sun Loong, the biggest Chinese dragon in the world (he even has his own Facebook page).

There’s also a huge book fair in Bendigo over the Easter long weekend, and between that and a number of really top-rate secondhand bookstores I was lucky enough to find another five books to add to my gamebook collection. This represents the single largest haul of books for my collection in well over a year, so I was pretty happy about it. Here’s what I found:

This brings my gamebook collection to a total of 485 books over 74 different series and stand-alone titles. I’m so close to 500 books I can almost smell it! It smells of old books, actually.

I’ve written on Games vs Play before about the history of gamebooks, but not about my own collection. If you’ve ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book then you know what a gamebook is: basically a story where the reader is asked every few pages to choose from two or more different directions in which the plot can go. Literary theorists call this kind of story structure a “branching narrative”, and they’re usually written in the second person i.e. “You” are the main character and hero of the story. Thousands of gamebooks were published all around the world during the 1980s and ‘90s, but since about the year 2000 new gamebooks are rarer than new singles by Dr Alban. Which is a shame, because there’s so much potential to do something really, really interesting with a book that has a start, many middles, and many endings.

I started collecting about 6 years ago, when on a whim I bought some old Choose Your Own Adventure books from a stall at the Sydney Road Festival in Brunswick, Melbourne. Once I started looking for gamebooks, I began finding them everywhere. In that first year alone I found 250 books, riding my bike all over Melbourne in search of new titles, and even adding extra days to trips to Sydney and Hobart to glean through the secondhand bookstores in those cities. By the third year the rate of adding new books to the collection had dropped considerably, mainly because I’d already picked up most of easily found alluvial nuggets and now had to start drilling deep for the hidden seams of the rarer gamebooks. Since becoming a parent I’ve also had less time to haunt secondhand bookstores and op-shops, but the good news is that my boys seem to enjoy the wacky idea of a book that lets them choose their own adventures.

All collections have rules to them, whether you’re collecting works of fine art or Communist-era Czechoslovakian cereal boxes. My gamebook collection has just two official rules. Here they are:

1) I cannot just buy a gamebook new, nor order it online, by mail, or via any other means.

2) I can receive gamebooks, new or secondhand, as gifts or presents.

The first rule means that I have to actively search out the books by going to secondhand bookstores, op shops, book fairs and the like. I find this adds an element of spontaneity and surprise to the collection – it’s much more satisfying and exciting to walk into a random secondhand bookstore in Wonthaggi and come across Light on Quests Mountain (Endless Quest #12) than to, say, order it from Amazon. This first rule also restricts my collection to mainly secondhand gamebooks i.e. books that were published during the heyday of the gamebook boom back in the 1980s, rather than more recent reprints. I also like this for the sheer nostalgia – when I was a kid I wanted to own every Choose Your Own Adventure, and as an adult I’m gonna make that happen!
The second rule came about because once I began telling my friends I was collecting gamebooks, they began giving me gamebooks! I couldn’t see anything wrong about this. I’d be crazy to say no, really. Just say yes to gamebooks, kids. Just say yes.

I also have a few preferences that haven’t exactly become rules but are more like habits in the way that I collect gamebooks. These include:

  • If I come across a gamebook that I do not yet have in the collection I’ll generally buy it, even if the quality of that particular book isn’t great
  • Different editions of the same gamebook title count towards the collection
  • Books that aren’t strictly speaking gamebooks – i.e. they don’t fully use the branching path narrative structure – can still be included in the collection on the basis that they either contain their own game systems (like the Dragon Warriors RPG books) or have a short gamebook adventure within the larger text (such as Ian Livingstone’s Dicing with Dragons).

With the collection now sitting at 485 books, if I’m very lucky I might hit the big 500 before the end of 2016. Either way, my gamebook collection must be one of the largest collections of its kind in Australia. Don’t you think? There’s a challenge, right there! If you have a larger collection, I’d love to hear from you.

It’d be great to swap stories about how you got started collecting gamebooks, and we might even be able to do a book swap, which would be good for everyone. If YOU choose to respond to this challenge, drop me a line in the Games vs Play contact page – and if anyone out there already has the full set of all 184 first run Choose Your Own Adventures, I salute you.

About Martin

Martin is a writer and blogger based in Melbourne, Australia. You can read more about Martin by clicking here.