Thursday, January 3, 2008

Nostalgia Trip: Fighting Fantasy

Over the last few weeks I have discussed comic books, collecting things and computers, so this week I am going to further enhance my geek credentials by talking about the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks which were very popular back in the 1980's.

The idea behind the books was very simple and at the same time quite revolutionary. As a way of cashing in on the growth in interest in Dungeons & Dragons games and Games Workshop products, the books were designed to give younger boys the ability to experience a fantasy adventure without having to learn a lot of strange and complicated rules, buy a lot of expensive manuals and equipment, and, most importantly, did not require having similarly obsessive friends that were willing to spend hours sitting at a table with you.

The gamebooks did have some rules, which involved rolling a dice and recording some scores, and also keeping a list of the items you found during the adventure. I'm sure I was similar to many others in that I tended to work through the books under the assumption that I won all my battles, was reasonably lucky and skillful, and kept my finger in the page before in case I suddenly died horribly and had to go back a few moments in time. Even with this liberal approach, the books were usually difficult, and often relied on finding certain objects and presenting them to certain people in a certain order.

The books had a good replay value because it was very hard to remember all the incidents and tricks that came into play. The descriptions and gameplay in the books were always quite detailed, truly immersing the reader in a different world each time. The books had some variety - some were outdoors, some were in a city, some involved fiendish traps and mazes, some were even set in space.

We grew up in a Christian household, and consequently there was quite a lot of debate as to whether the books were appropriate for younger readers, with some graphic and ghoulish images and references to occult practices, wizardry and such. Several times we borrowed a volume or made a trade because our copies had been lost.

Looking back now, the gamebooks still have some appeal. I find they are the right length for a transatlantic flight and are easy to carry around. And they are still hard!

What initially piqued my interest twenty years later was that all the gamebooks were reissued by Wizard Books beginning in 2002, and new stories were forthcoming from the original authors. The internet has spawned a large number of websites devoted to the books and the worlds they created. For example there is a great collector site here and a good overview of the series here.

The original books can usually be found on eBay, and the reissues are currently widely available from online stores such as Amazon.

Wikipedia entry

No comments: