Plenty of options
Life was boring in the early 1980s. There were only a handful of TV channels, sports were all prohibitively violent, and colour itself would not be invented until 1986, when Prince Charles came up with it by accident. (Even then, it was only available in black and white at first.) Jas Mann off of Babylon Zoo would not redefine popular music in its gaudy entirety for at least a decade, and the only video game anybody owned was Pong: a good one for the history books, certainly, but about as thrilling to interact with as a dialling tone.
There was one hope, though. Back then, books and games weren’t enemies like they are today. They were friends – friends that got together and went on adventures. The very best books of all even sent you on adventures in which you made the decisions.
There were plenty of options to select from in this department, but I was always drawn to the Choose Your Own Adventure series. They were short on fantasy lore, which was something I wouldn’t be remotely interested in until, ooh, let’s say 1992, and you didn’t need dice or a pencil to play them. Also, the covers weren’t as scary.
Also also, Choose Your Own Adventure books were commonly based on the kind of Saturday matinee topics that appealed to me at the time. What would it be like to travel on a UFO? What’s really going down at the centre of the sun? What if you were a tweed-jacketed super-spy who could talk to whales? You could blast through dozens of adventures – and make hundreds of choices – in a single night. That’s a lot of talking to whales, buddy.
Best of all, using a piece of quick-save technology known as a “finger”, you could sneakily mark a previous page, and then turn back the clock if you didn’t like the way things were going. Drowning in quicksand? Sliced open by a clumsy robot chef? Balloon gone down on a radioactive atoll? That’s not how it happened. All thanks to fingers. It was like starring in a mid-range action movie and getting a practical course in tendonitis at the same time. Oh, but we were blessed in the 1980s: this alone made up for the constant threat of nuclear apocalypse and all those woolly sweaters that were worryingly fashionable, especially if you pushed the sleeves up.