Saturday, February 29, 2020

"how Choose Your Own Adventure books indoctrinated '80s children with the idea that success is simply the result of individual 'good choices'"

From an interview at Slate (that I disagree with):

What interested me a lot was the fact that Packard actually came up with the Choose Your Own Adventure idea in the 1960s and took it to publishers, but nobody thought it was a good idea! They all said, “This is weird. It’s a game, not a book.” Then 10, 12 years later, when he did it again, all the publishers said, “This is amazing, you’re a genius.” So clearly, something deep changed in American culture.


The other big thing that’s interesting about the 1950s and the 1960s, after the war, is how skeptical people were about the very notion of free choice. From B.F. Skinner and the behaviorists, who basically were saying there’s no free will, and everyone is programmed by their outer experiences—no innate desires, no inherent preferences. Then there was also a lot of talk about brainwashing—think of The Manchurian Candidate—and a whole scandal about the idea of subliminal advertising messages in movies. … Americans were just much more skeptical about their own freedom.


You point out that Choose Your Own Adventure rewards certain kinds of actions—the books always rewarded readers for making the highest-risk decisions. I was remembering how I, a relatively timid child as a young reader, knew that I would not make a certain scary choice—going down a hallway toward the sound of screaming, or something—in my real life, but also knew that the Choose Your Own authors would want me to make it, so I’d pick it anyway.

Yeah, there are two examples I give in the article, about how the narrative would drive you in certain directions. So the one you just mentioned, about riskiness being the object—think of how a big part of how neoliberal economists legitimize the fact that Wall Street bankers make billions of dollars is just, “Oh, well, they’re really taking a lot of risks, so we have to pay them a lot.” Which just makes me laugh because what about the single mom with no health care—why is she getting paid so little, when her whole life is risk? But you know what I mean. You, as a reader, were being taught over and over that you need to take lots of flashy risks to win.

Then the other thing is the books don’t let you make one big choice. I was totally blown away when I found out that all of the books—I didn’t remember this, at all—assume that the “you” who’s reading the book is white, and almost always a white middle-class boy. They totally could have kept [the protagonist] neutral, you know? They didn’t have to have it be a white boy.
I always found the Choose Your Own Adventure books frustrating because I saw no logic to the choices--there seemed no point in even choosing. I much preferred the TSR Endless Quest books, where I believed my good choices were indeed driving a narrative.

Meanwhile, the WaPo on a world without individual choice:
China compels Uighurs to work in shoe factory that supplies Nike


They churn out pair after pair of Shox, with their springy shock absorbers in the heels, and the signature Air Max, plus seven other lines of sports shoes.

But hundreds of these workers did not choose to be here: They are ethnic Uighurs from China’s western Xinjiang region, sent here by local authorities in groups of 50 to toil far from home.
Related, I think about this Cory Doctorow article a lot:
‘‘The Cold Equations’’, [is] Tom Godwin’s classic 1954 Astounding story about a shuttle pilot who has to kill a girl who has stowed away on his ship. The pilot, Barton, is on a mission to deliver medicine to a group of explorers on a distant world. They have contracted a fatal disease, and without the medicine, they will all die. The pilot has just gotten underway when he sees his fuel gauge dropping at a faster rate than it should. He deduces from this that there’s a stowaway aboard and after a search, he discovers a young girl.

She has stowed away in order to be reunited with her brother, who is on the plague-stricken world (though he’s a continent away from the sickness). She believes that she is to be fined for her rule-breaking, but then a stricken Barton explains the facts of the universe to her. The rescue ship has only enough fuel to reach the plague-planet, and with the girl’s additional mass, it won’t arrive. She will have to be pushed out of the airlock, otherwise the sick explorers will die of the plague. If Barton could, he’d sacrifice himself to let her live, but she can’t land the spaceship. It’s entirely out of his hands.

As the truth dawns on her, she weeps and protests: ‘‘I didn’t do anything!’’

But we know better, as does Barton – and as, eventually, does she. She has violated the laws of physics. The equations are there, and they say she must die. Not because the universe thirsts for her vengeance. There is no passion in her death. She must die because the inescapable, chilly math of the situation demands it.


The parameters of ‘‘The Cold Equations’’ are not the inescapable laws of physics. Zoom out beyond the page’s edges and you’ll find the author’s hands carefully arranging the scenery so that the plague, the world, the fuel, the girl and the pilot are all poised to inevitably lead to her execution. The author, not the girl, decided that there was no autopilot that could land the ship without the pilot. The author decided that the plague was fatal to all concerned, and that the vaccine needed to be delivered within a timeframe that could only be attained through the execution of the stowaway.
Netflix asks court to cancel the Choose Your Own Adventure trademark


Chooseco (which controls a trademark originally owned by Bantam Books) has been trying to prevent this outcome for years. It’s filed suits against other big companies, including Chrysler, for using the phrase. But it’s also gone after small, obscure indie games that might dilute its trademark. Some publishers have gone to deliberately ridiculous extents to avoid using the term, like calling their book a “Select Your Own Choose-Venture” story.