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Monday, 16 September 2013

Guest post: Richard S Hetley on The Way of the Tiger

The second guest post in the run-up to the Way of the Tiger Kickstarter campaign is from Richard S Hetley, editor of the series and CEO of Megara Entertainment's US division:

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Sometimes storytelling uses the word "you." At least that's what I learned as a small child being introduced to roleplaying games and solo gamebooks. Then, years later, my school teachers tried to educate me on "first person" and "third person" perspective, leaving out this mysterious numerical inevitability in the middle. "Second person" would be stories that use the word "you," wouldn't they? There are lots of those, right? So why do you not teach them?

Apparently the children knew about the Choose Your Own Adventure books in the school library but the grown-ups assumed we did not. Granted, the library didn't have any other gamebooks, nor roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, so it may have been an oversight by the adults. Not so in my household.

Here was a home where our parents bought us The Way of the Tiger and Lone Wolf before we'd ever heard of them. Then, exhilarated by the worlds found therein, us kids hunted down Fighting Fantasy, Grailquest, and anything else we could find. Why? Because sometimes storytelling uses the word "you," and then "you" get to tell the most exciting story of all: your own.

So there was The Way of the Tiger. Reading it over and over again was as satisfying as the first time because I was "choosing" my "adventure." As a small child, I became confused at some point and thought you could earn a + 1 to your Fate Modifier within the walls of Doomover. I would struggle to find the route that permitted this, saying "I want to get the Fate Modifier! I want it!" Think of this: it was a matter of "wanting to do something." With a book in first or third person, how much is there to "do"? One can say "I want to read The Hobbit" and then stand back as Bilbo slays a dragon. But with The Way of the Tiger, one can say "I want to deflect crossbow bolts with my bare hands" and then deflect crossbow bolts with one's bare hands.

This personal experience made the story more memorable. To this day, I the American (or "United Statesian" to be more accurate) still prefer the British spelling of "Armour" and "Axe" because that was how I spelled them in my adventures. In fact, such gets at a deeper matter: good books generally leave the reader wiser for the experience, and gamebooks are no exception, but what one learns may be a little different. The Way of the Tiger was extra special for what I learned.

Some context: by the time I started reading gamebooks, I had already killed my first kobold and carrion crawler. Dungeons and Dragons was common at playtime and I had finally figured out how to read a d4. Percentile dice still stymied. The D-and-D rules encouraged the reader to think of combat as more than "I hit, I miss, I hit again" (direct quote), but there was no point to anything past mastering the dice mechanics. So I learned dice.

The Way of the Tiger went beyond my meager ("meagre"?) understanding of gaming. It had neither four-sided dice nor percentile dice, so I was safe there; instead it had a system of interwoven attack rolls, damage rolls, blocking, and "special powers" (Inner Force). A child might ask "So I want to run up to the enemy and hit it. What do I roll?" but this was not how the game worked. "You" had to choose what to do in each fight, and if "you" thought it would be clever to try throwing an Elder God to the ground, then "you" got to enjoy the consequences.

Which isn't to say that all consequences were deadly: sometimes a special scene or route out of danger could arise from your choice. Not only did I come to look forward to the Cobra Man, the Elder God, the Ninja of the Way of the Scorpion as I played, but I came to understand the intricate details of this thing called "strategy." Entire plotlines could appear through "strategic failing," and great swaths of peril could be bypassed by "strategic planning." I not only learned that this game was fun, but I learned how one weaves the stories and games that allowed me to have fun in the first place.

I was simultaneously a reader, a storyteller, a strategist, and just some kid who wanted to punch Goblins in the face, while flipping pages and scrawling Endurance on a piece of paper. All was possible with the magical word "you." Thus it is to read The Way of the Tiger.


  1. I believe that the proper form of the second-person gamebook pronoun is "YOU".

    Some of that account resonates with my own memories. I discovered gamebooks at the same time that I discovered the text-based adventure games that were mainstream for home computers in the 1980s, and part of the appeal of both was the idea of moving *through* the story, rather than just watching it unfold. The "game" element of managing stats and inventory exerted some attraction as well. But I also found some intellectual satisfaction in gamebooks (yes, you read those words correctly), in observing how a multilinear narrative could be formed out of interconnected numbered paragraphs.

    1. Of course, having more interest these days in interactive narrative using the pronoun "I" (Frankenstein) I'm not the one to comment on the '80s tradition. I will just say that it can be a lot of fun to just read a gamebook in numerical sequence - 1 then 2 then 3 and so on. The effect is quite Calvino-esque :-)

    2. Graham, I see "YOU" have caught an error that slipped through my drafting process. I hope to do better.

      As to gaming, I also enjoyed Zork and Wishbringer (and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) on my family's Commodore 64. It was not only interesting, but also inspiring to little wannabe programmers who hoped to make their own videogames: text adventures are an excellent creative outlet and a popular starting choice in programming.

      Dave, I surely won't tell "YOU" how to write. But on that topic, I don't quite get the warfare some people make of narrative mode. I could appreciate your "I" Frankenstein just fine, but it seems there are those who've developed an allergy to the word "I."

      Which is a pity, because . . . and watch me here, I'm about to repeat myself . . . it's one of the three standard "persons" a child could read in a school library while growing up.

  2. this a great article thank you for sharing and posting. i like to play game alot i dont if is it wired or normal ?

    1. Seems normal to me. Real life is the weird part.