Visualizing a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book

Here's a neat little data-visualization of the possible outcomes in an old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure message, in which life was nasty, brutish and short.
Michael Niggel took a look at Journey Under the Sea, and mapped out all possible paths. It turns out that death and unfavorable endings are in fact much more likely than the rest.
Choose Your Own Adventure - Most Likely You'll Die

PDF of chart

(via Waxy)


  1. Always tried to figure out how to map Julio Cortazar’s ‘Hopscotch’ which is made of 56 chapters: “the reader can do “with a clean conscience”, or by hopscotching through the entire set of 155 chapters–except chapter 55–according to a table provided by the author that leaves the reader, finally, in an infinite loop between the last two chapters in the sequence.” More atázar_novel)

  2. I used to love the Jackson/Livingstone books, although I’d love to hear from anyone who actually completed “Rebel Planet”. I’m still convinced that my version had a misprint or a missing page or something.

  3. I used to love them too. Actually they are like 10 cents on Amazon, so I’m about to relive my childhood!

  4. The only one of those that really stuck with me is “Inside UFO 54-40” which had an ongoing plot element about a utopian planet you could never reach by making any decision. Turns out the pages describing your arrival there are in the book but no other pages lead there – you just have to turn directly to page 101.

  5. To find the Rebel Planet, you had to just “go there”. It’s horrible, but what they’re actually saying is you have to literally turn to the page where that ending is located – skipping through the book until you find it.

    My friend found the page and then tried to map it out, and sure enough you cannot find it by sticking to the story. You can only find it by cheating.

  6. Cool post, Cory!

    I was very fond of these books when I was a boy.

    I explicitly remember Dungeons and Dragons themed Choose Your Own Adventure books. There were other themes as well, though, no?

  7. if we’re voting for the best, #3, “By Balloon To The Sahara” clearly set the bar. It had the most endings, the most interesting combinations and cross-sections of story lines, and some very creative writing to boot. All the others paled in comparison, and even my young middle-school mind could critically assess the drop in quality as the series went on. Edward Packard et al were getting lazy, with less and less twists and possibilities.

    Interestingly, its author, “D. Terman” never wrote another book, and only now, decades later, do I get the obvious bad pun-pseudonym. Who is this mystery man?

  8. #7 – Thanks for that. I suspected that all was not quite right with that book when I got told to remove a non-existent item from my inventory in the second paragraph that I got to. I wonder if I could still get a refund…

  9. It would be excellent to see a series of these. I suspect that the more highly rated titles would be visibly different.

  10. I did something like this when I wrote and edited choose-your-own-adventures back in the 80s. Good thing I did, too. One of the adventures I edited, turns out there was a major section the writer had forgotten to “plug in” that kept you from completing the adventure . . .

    I don’t know about anybody else but I couldn’t have written them without a chart. Too much to keep track of and too many ways to make mistakes.

    Apropos of a couple of posts above, our CYOA books were specced out at 400 paragraphs. We would routinely finish them out at 394 or so and then add a few, extra, bogus paragraphs that didn’t connect to anything else. (“Your car is driving oddly, like there’s a lot of weight in the trunk. So you open the trunk and find it full of gold ingots! Return to the paragraph you came here from.”)

  11. I found the Fighting Fantasy series to be a drastic improvement over Choose Your Own Adventure, what with having a basic combat system and all.

    Actualy, I think they recently reprinted Warlock of Firetop Mountain…

  12. I remember having a kind of existential epiphany at the age of 9 when I realised LIFE is a choose-your-own-adventure story.

    I used to like the one where one of your genes mutated and you became a genius. It was mostly win/win. choosing between being a supreme athlete or a successful musician. The tough part was deciding whether to be a jazz pianist (courtesy of your teacher, ’88-keys weston’ or something like that) or the keyboard player in a rock band.

  13. I managed to write a LaTeX document class that produces CYOA-like files– you give it scenes and tell it how they’re linked, and it randomizes the pages and provides correct page numbers for the choices. I want to clean it up and turn it into an actual package sometime; it’s still pretty rudimentary right now.

    I’ve been thinking about writing one myself, but I’m kind of stuck for ideas.

    Another Choose Your Own Adventure graph can be found here:

  14. Hmmm… With some good OCR software, a little programming and a lot of time feeding pages to the scanner, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to automate production of these graphs.

    Perhaps I’ll add it to my “interesting projects that I’ll likely never get around to” list.

  15. I remember one of my PoMo Lit.Crit professors back in graduate school in the mid 1990s babbling on and on about “hypertext”, etc, and the potentials for the “future of literature”, all agog. He had never heard of this series. I went and bought a couple of them at the local Bookstop store, plopped them on his desk and said “there’s your hypertext, circa mid 1980s. Whoopity-frickin’ dooo”

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved these books as a kid, though, but I would *always* cheat (i.e. look ahead for obvious bad outcomes first, before committing to a decision), too. ;-)

  16. I recall reading these things and taking notes, making sure I followed every possible branch on the tree.

  17. When I was a kid I mapped out the first Endless Quest book, Dungeon of Dread, essentially turning it into a D&D module. I also wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure-style book for a creative writing assignment in 5th or 6th grade, too. The funny thing was that even 11-year-old me knew that I was just lifting the idea from a company, so I used a fake knock-off title. I called it “Choose Your Own Book.”

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