ChooseCo, owner of the Choose Your Own Adventure trademark, has not been idle lately. Last year I wrote about the release of a game it licensed to Z-Man Games, adapting a classic CYOA novel into a board game for multiple players. Then, last month, I wrote about the company’s lawsuit against Netflix for violating the CYOA trademark in its Bandersnatch movie. Now comes the news that ChooseCo has released a couple of its books for use via Amazon’s Alexa interactive voice assistant.
To use them, you just tell Alexa (via an Echo speaker, a Fire tablet, or other Alexa-enabled device) “open Choose Your Own Adventure.” The first time you do it, Amazon prompts you (via the Alexa mobile app) to log into Amazon and grant parental permission for your kid to use the app. (Even if you don’t have a kid and it’s just you, it still follows that process.) When you open it again, it prompts you to choose a story. At the moment, it just has two titles available: adaptations of the classic CYOA books The Abominable Snowman and Journey Under the Sea.
When you do so, the story begins. It’s effectively an interactive audiobook. (ChooseCo worked with Audible on the adaptations.) A narrator reads the story to you, just as if you were reading it in print in the book itself—complete with background music and sound effects. When you reach the end of a section, it asks you to make a choice. Instead of the book’s instruction to “turn to page X,” it just asks you what you want to do, and when you speak the name of the choice, Alexa’s voice-recognition system interprets it and jumps you to the appropriate point in the story. You can also choose “Go back” to return to the previous section and make another choice. When you stop, the app will save your place in the story, and you can pick it up again from the same place on any Alexa device connected to your Amazon account.
When I wrote about Z-Man’s game, I remarked that there didn’t seem to be any official Kindle adaptations of CYOA books currently available. But to be honest, this Alexa app actually works better than a Kindle adaptation would. You don’t have to worry about tapping anything, paging up or down—you just listen, and answer the questions it asks. That is a more naturalistic way to experience that kind of story, and who knows? Maybe kids will like it better.
Choose Your Own Adventure books are aimed at kids, of course. But I wonder—with the application framework available, might there also be a market for interactive fiction for adults, like Netflix’s Bandersnatch? I suppose it will remain to be seen.
Something else that puzzles me is, who’s paying whom for this? Is ChooseCo paying Amazon to place its CYOA books on its Alexa platform, for the exposure? Or is Amazon paying ChooseCo for the right to use its content? Access to the two books is free, and none of the articles I’ve run across say whether any money is changing hands, or in which direction. The TechCrunch piece I linked above does suggest that these books might just be free samples to test the waters, and future works could be offered as subscriptions or in-app purchases, or even bundled into Audible Channels.
In any case, if you have an Echo or Fire device, are nostalgic for a little Choose Your Own Adventure action, and don’t mind listening to audiobooks, you might just find this a fun diversion.
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