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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

entry arrow5:05 PM | Fiction, Games, and the Web as Adventures: An Appreciation of R.A. Montgomery

R.A. Montgomery died today. And with his death went away one of the last living remnants of the childhood I've had. Who was he? Truth to tell, I didn't even know much about him -- his name didn't even register -- until news of his death started popping up my timeline today from people who must have had the same childhood as mine. And the news was the same: the founder, publisher, and editor of the Choose Your Own Adventures series from Bantam Books has died at the age of 78. I discovered these books when I was a grade school student at the Special Education (Fast Learners) Program of the West City Elementary School. I am forever thankful for getting into that program, for getting plucked out of the regular classes going into my third year and into a special one where I had the same teachers from Grade 3 to 6, where we were taught high school level English, Math, and Science, and where we were exposed to other special learners -- the blind (with whom I learned a little bit of Braille), the deaf (with whom I learned a little bit of sign language), and the mentally-challenged (with whom I learned a little bit more about how to be patient and understanding about the specific challenges of other people) -- which I think provided me with a good liberal education about living life. We had our own library, which was ran with effortless charm by Mrs. Ricardo, and it was stocked with the best books a child learning to be voracious of the written word could appreciate. As far as I can remember, there was no wall separating the library and the classroom ran by Ms. Concepcion, who taught me how to read and write better. It was just one big room ingeniously sectioned off into two parts, and in my mind's eye, there was no divide between the time for learning and the time for reading: when recess came every day, I'd get up from my desk, my home-prepared snacks on hand, and saunter towards the shelves at the library, take out a book, and read it at one of those puzzle-piece-multi-colored tables (which you could combine into assorted geometric ensembles -- how very Math-like). I devoured children's book. I discovered Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift. I found that we had a whole encyclopaedia series that summarised with some thoroughness every single Great Book in existence -- which led me to read the classics at a very young age. Best of all, I discovered the Choose Your Own Adventure books. They were Bantam Books paperbacks, and a number of them were housed in one shelf at the library. I don't remember much about specific titles now, but I think I must have picked out The Cave of Time, which led to more titles. I remember just devouring these books, although I can't quite remember any of the titles. (I remember one though about a mysterious island, and a boy who goes there.) The books had a fascinating conceit that appealed to me (and I think so many other kids my age): the reader is the adventurer of the story he is reading, and as he follows the narrative, he is given choices which would take the story one way or another. The adventurer's fate lies in the decisions he makes with the unfolding narratives. (It felt horrible to make a choice, and then end up dead. But it was always nice to go back and make another choice, and see where that took us.) I think this must have laid the germ of fiction-writing in me. But beyond that obvious influence, I think these books also helped my own generation prepare for a future life in complex game theory and hyperlinks. We were the generation that first stepped into the endless adventures of the Internet. We were the first generation to immerse ourselves in digital role-playing games. And we are the only generation which has seen the Internet and computer gaming evolve from very simple beginnings (Web 1.0 and Pong!) to the complicated wonders they have become right now.

I guess we owe it all to R.A. Montgomery.

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