What is a gamebook?

The clue is in the name. A gamebook is like a novel, only instead of watching the characters do dumb things and blunder into danger, you get to decide what they do. So dumb things are optional, though the danger part is bound to happen anyway.

In most gamebooks, you don’t only get to tell the hero what to do, usually you are the hero. So you might read a section like this:


You are halfway across when the creaking of the ropes turns to a ripping sound that makes your stomach do backflips. The bridge lurches under your feet and you cling on as you watch a succession of rotted wooden planks tumbling like playing cards into the crystal-sharp air of the ravine. You’re still fifty paces from the safety of the far side. “Run!” shouts the old man. “Save yourself!”

Okay, so that’s you most definitely in harm’s way. (See above disclaimer about danger.) But you have a choice in the matter. The next few lines will be something like this:

What will you do?
Make a dash for the end of the bridge: turn to 45
Help the old man across even though that will take longer: turn to 341
Get the tent cloth out of your backpack: turn to 226
Tie yourself and the old man to the hand rope: turn to 197

There are all kinds of gamebook genres – fantasy, science fiction, detective stories, romance, superheroes. There are even literary gamebooks.

And sometimes, instead of being the hero, you’re the voice in his or her ear giving advice. Ever yelled at the TV screen? You know, like, “It’s a trap, you idiot!” Well it’s just like that – only in this case they’ll listen to what you say.

What's the best way to find out what gamebooks are like? Play one! And here’s one you can play for free right now:

Heart of Ice

A dark sci-fi adventure of greed, alliance and betrayal. A new Ice Age has brought humanity to the edge of extinction. A group of rival adventurers seek the ultimate power contained in a mysterious meteorite – power to either save the world or destroy it. Are you ruthless enough to seize the power for yourself? Find out here.