Forever People

Girls Don't Like GamebooksWriting Gamebooks

Posted by Forever People Sat, October 21, 2017 01:37PM

Girls don't like gamebooks. Is this posit true?

The answer, of course, is no. But if this is (of course) the answer, why are there so few female gamebook enthusiasts within the community? Go to any Facebook group (OSGR, Fighting Fantasy and Other Gamebooks, Lone Wolf Gamebooks etc) and you'll find an overwhelming majority of members are male. Doesn't this clearly suggest that the answer (of course) is that girls very clearly do not like gamebooks?

No. It doesn't. Let's take a look at why I maintain that girls do, in fact, like gamebooks.

Let's start with conventional fiction. Were I to suggest that there are fewer female readers than male I would doubtless be making a claim that is not just wrong but pretty idiotic. I'm not sure of the exact percentages, but we can assume that the balance is fairly even. Both male and female readers exist and they exist in such equal numbers that identifying the exact difference would be futile. Were I to hazard a guess I'd even say there are more female readers in the world than males, but it doesn't really matter. You get my point.

There are, without a doubt, certain genres which female readers prefer. We could easily focus on the specifically female-centric authors (Adele Parks, Laura Marshall, Amanda Prowse etc) whose books tend to be about relationships, the inner city struggles of 30 something women and so on and so forth and which are marketed directly at, and are read mostly by women. But this is kind of disingenuous because books like these are merely the mirror image of authors like Chris Ryan, Robert White or David Baldacci who write novels about manly men, SAS soldiers and rip roaring bloke fiction. Both sides of fiction exist purely because authors tend to specialise, either deliberately or unconsciously (when, for example, they write for their own tastes).

There are a world of books enjoyed by both men and women alike. I know as many die-hard female Tolkien fans as I know male Tolkien fans. Dan Brown, whose writing could easily be misconstrued as male-adventure fantasy, is as popular with female readers as males. Philip Pullman, Ken Follett - these are all writers whose work has universal appeal. I might also mention books like The Hunger Games, or Divergent, both of which are as fascinating to boys as they are to girls (and despite the protagonists being female, make no mistake that these series were marketed at both the male and female teen reader market).

In September 2017, shortly after launching my Woven Paths gamebook Malice From the Middle Vale, I ran a Facebook ad campaign targetting males, aged 15 to 50, focusing on fans of RPGs, gamebooks and fantasy fiction. My first campaign of this sort, it was an experiment to see if boosted posts on Facebook are cost effective. The results were, however, more interesting to me as an illustration of the female gamebook market.

Why? Because of 1042 men reached by the campaign, 48 were engaged (meaning they clicked through, took a look, liked the post and maybe even commented). Yet, despite targetting males specifically, 13 female members of Facebook were also exposed to the post. Of these, 2 engaged.

In other words, looking at these figures relatively speaking, 4.6% of males were engaged, compared with a whopping 15.38% of females. Bet you weren't expecting that eh?

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So what's going on with gamebooks? Why does this seem to be such a male oriented hobby when the figures seem to suggest that this isn't necessarily an inevitable or obvious state of affairs.

I think the answer lies partly in the history of gamebooks. The old school generation targeted by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were school-age boys with no exceptions over the course of 59 books. This was the 80s, when gender roles were still 'a thing'. Men worked, women made homes, men liked fighting and football and girls liked horses and baking cakes. None of this was particularly true when scrutinised, but generally seemed to be the accepted truth. There are some cringing examples of the gamebook industry of the time attempting to pander to this modality of thought, the Choose Your Own Adventure series being guilty in quite a few instances, and the Starlight Adventures being another noteable example probably best forgotten.

When you render the architecture of a Thing, that architecture defines how the Thing is perceived. If you don't update the architecture, perceptions remain the same. And if times change and former perceptions are no longer necessary or appropriate, perceptions of your architecture do not automatically change with the times.

The results of my ad campaign and other research which I'm steadily engaged in suggest that there's a hunger in the female readership for the gamebook format. So let's look at how this can be addressed.

What we don't need is a series of gamebooks about boys, high school prom, horses and other outmoded ideas which are more about the male assumption of 'what girls like' than the actual reality of 'what girls like'. Yes, there is a demographic for this sort of story, but it's not the only demographic and it's not even the largest demographic. Comparatively speaking, over the past decade, a great deal more girls have been heavily inspired and influenced by vampires, werewolves, bow hunting heroines, bloodthirsty arenas, wizards and rebel insurgents fighting the system than have been inspired by horses, ballet, the colour pink and [insert additional stereotypical assumptions on what girls like here].

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In short, female readers love adventure, they love thrills and daring-do. They love all the things that we boys like, but they like one other thing a little bit more than us and that's emotional engagement. If you look closely at Twilight, Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games and so on, you'll see a singular running thread which is emotional engagement with the plot. Plots within these films are driven by character, not by the adventure alone. Without Katniss Everdeen's unconditional love for her sister, there would be no Hunger Games. Without Four's undying love for Tris there would be no Divergent (without his protection, she would have died early in the first book). Without the love of his parents, Harry Potter would have perished as a baby at the hands of Voldemort. I can't comment on Twilight because I haven't read it, but I'm confident there's a deep emotional bond in there, without which the books would not exist.

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Male readers don't dislike this aspect of fiction. Sometimes it makes us a little uncomfortable perhaps - particularly if we're of the old school generation. But that's why men are from Mars and women are from Venus. The lesson to take away is not that girls and boys like different things, but that the gamebook architecture is currently missing a single, vital ingredient. Emotional engagement and plot driven by the central character rather than the outerlying railroad of the story.

In writing Woven Paths I introduced the relationship between the reader (the Scythe-Bearer) and their brother Mop. Without the Scythe-Bearer's unconditional love for Mop, there would be no Malice From the Middle Vale. The book simply wouldn't exist. The book remains an adventurous romp of the Fighting Fantasy variety, with the reader battling enemies, fighting through dungeons and facing off against big bads, but my hope is that there's also a certain level of emotional investment.

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So the opening gambit, as you can clearly see, is not true. Girls like the idea of gamebooks, but the gamebook format currently lacks a necessary ingredient and only writers within the current industry can change that. It doesn't require unicorn riding fairy princesses. It doesn't require gender neutral phraseology. It just requires some emotional connection and eyes wide open to the fact that both men and women love to read and that gamebooks are books like any other. No big mystery.

Fabled LandsWeekly OSGR Gamebook Spotlight

Posted by Forever People Wed, October 18, 2017 12:27PM

Gamebook Showcase, week 3

I'll be highlighting a new gamebook from the world of hold in the hand printed works every week on this pinned post. These are books which I consider to be important in terms of bringing the gamebook format back to mainstream consciousness as well as being books you can find in book stores, libraries and so on. These books deserve our support!

Week 3: The Fabled Lands series, by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson.

Originally published by Pan books in the mid 90s, the first two books were also printed under the name Quest in the U.S. by publishers Price Stern Sloan. A Kickstarter campaign to fund completion of Book Seven was launched in 2015 and funded within 45 minutes of launch. The original books have been reprinted under Fabled Lands Publishing (also responsible for last week's showcase, Heart of Ice) and Megara Entertainment launched a series of apps set in the Fabled Lands realm, though these are no longer available due to a change in IP ownership.

Fabled Lands differ from standard gamebook formats in the way you can jump from one book to another, using the same character sheet throughout and improving your character, increasing their stats and their gear. In this sense FL does for roleplayers what Destiny Quest does for fans of online roleplaying games like World of Warcraft. Here is a distilled and concise version of a tabletop roleplaying campaign contained in a series of books.

Some elements are lost in translation, the depth and scope of RPG and the detail of most conventional gamebooks, for example, cannot be crushed into such an expansive and ambitious set of books. Nevertheless there's plenty of atmosphere and you'll soon feel like you've stepped into a living, breathing fantasy realm, albeit one requiring more imagination, perhaps, on the part of the reader than most roleplay settings.

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Cover art was by Kevin Jenkins with the epic Russ Nicholson and Arun Pottier providing illustrations and maps respectively. There's plenty of artwork too, with Russ providing city scapes and jaunty fillerstrations in his usual unique style, though the lines seem thicker than his fine Warlock of Firetop Mountain work and some of the images do seem a little rushed (possibly a result of the sheer quantity of artwork contained in each book).

And these are big books, printed in the same size format as the FF Dungeoneer and Blacksand titles, each has 600 references, almost all of which you'll struggle to visit until you've built up your gear, amped up your stats and buffed up your combat ability to a decent level.

Some advice: don't gamble. Spend your shards wisely and pick your fights. Explore plenty and if a quest is offered, take it, because they are surprisingly scant at times. You can usually tell if a quest is beyond your capabilities early on as a kind of 'you must be this tall to ride' task will require you make a successful skill based roll before you can get into the meat of the adventure.

Another Dave Morris! I'm aware that this is becoming the Morris Fan Club here and will endeavour to fix it next week with a different author. To his credit, Dave has been involved in some great gamebook projects (and I hear from him by messenger this week that he is working on a new one, of a more grown up nature, but no more details. Interesting!)

Gamebook Showcase - Heart of IceWeekly OSGR Gamebook Spotlight

Posted by Forever People Mon, October 09, 2017 10:06AM

I'll be highlighting a new gamebook from the world of hold in the hand printed works every week on this pinned post. These are books which I consider to be important in terms of bringing the gamebook format back to mainstream consciousness as well as being books you can find in book stores, libraries and so on. These books deserve our support.

Note: sorry if I don't include your book, but the criteria I'm using is quite strict. If you want to include your book please do promote the hell out of it with your own post. This is specifically books which I think deserve a spotlight for the great work they're doing for the OSGR movement.

Heart of Ice (Critical IF) by Dave Morris, published by Fabled Lands Publishing. An intriguing book set after a modern ice age, you play within the aftermath 300 or so years in the future. It's an intelligent and mature book and really we should expect nothing less of Dave Morris, the thinking man's writer and author of countless Old School gamebooks, including Fabled Lands, Dragon Warriors and Blood Sword. The day Dave becomes a member of OSGR will be a day to relish as he really is a standard bearer for the whole idea of bringing the gamebook back into mainstream consciousness and book shelves, and one of the few names capable of doing so. Like most smart new gamebook formats, Dave targets the 30+ crowd, the natural market and for this reason I include Heart of Ice.

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I think gamebooks are a literature naturally inclined toward getting kids into reading books. Game systems encourage mathematical problem solving, the format of the books themselves encourage critical and logical thinking. But you can't advocate the promotion of improving reading and education with a dumbed down product. Moreover, most kids are oblivious to the existence of the gamebook format.

But you know who does know about the gamebook format? And knows how to do it right? We do - the 30+ fans of old school style. Gamebooks for us will increase readership of gamebooks overall. If we can increase the market share, bookshops may start stocking the books meant for us and this, in turn, opens up an entire range of possibilities for children's books.

FF have already introduced the genre to school kids through Scholastic. Whether you agree with the Scholastic presentation or not, the way this has been marketed to the next generation is ingenious and, I'd say, necessary. But we can't all use Scholastic, so instead we should try to get gamebooks like Heart of Ice onto the printing presses and on the book shelves of high street retailers.

If anyone can do it, Dave Morris can.