By Ian Livingstone
Fighting Fantasy gamebooks first appeared in the 1980s with the publication of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first branching narrative book with a simple role-playing game system attached – hence the term ‘gamebook’. Usually set in worlds of monsters and magic, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks place the reader at the heart of the story, giving them agency through choice. These are interactive books in which YOU, the reader, are the Hero!
I co-wrote The Warlock of Firetop Mountain with Steve Jackson. It came out in August 1982 but got off to a slow start. Nobody had a clue as to what an ‘interactive gamebook’ was! But soon after they were discovered, the playground chat was consumed by children telling their friends about their exciting adventures inside Firetop Mountain, battling monsters, finding magical treasures and ultimately defeating the evil warlock Zagor. The craze spread up and down the country. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain became a national bestseller and more titles were commissioned. Steve wrote Citadel of Chaos and I wrote The Forest of Doom and quickly followed up with City of Thieves, Deathtrap Dungeon and Island of the Lizard King.
Reading books is normally a passive experience. Fighting Fantasy turned reading into an interactive experience. Choice is empowering and adding a simple role-playing games element to the branching narrative with multiple paths and endings made the books compelling. At first the media was suspicious of the interactive format. But it was later shown that children who read Fighting Fantasy gamebooks developed better decision-making skills. They were proven to be excellent for reluctant readers, especially boys. Whilst they enjoyed navigating their way through a Fighting Fantasy gamebook, readers were at same time learning meta skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and algorithmic thinking whilst also improving their literacy levels.
It’s fantastic but not entirely surprising that Fighting Fantasy has survived the test of time. Being interactive, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks strike a chord with the video game generation. But whilst video games stimulate the senses, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks stimulate the imagination. Readers read and play their way through the books deciding which paths to take and which characters to talk to whilst rolling dice to determine the outcome of certain actions such as slaying monsters. Children recount their adventures in the first-person as though they were actually there, experiences which stay with them forever.
The series has been translated into more than 25 languages and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. They are as relevant to today’s children as they ever were. Now published by Scholastic, the series has been rebooted and reimagined for the next generation of readers. Classic titles have been republished including The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Citadel of Chaos, The Forest of Doom, City of Thieves, Deathtrap Dungeon and Island of the Lizard King and Return to Firetop Mountain. Well-known guest authors have recently made their own contribution to the series. First, Charlie Higson with his hugely entertaining Gates of Death and more recently our first-ever female guest author, Rhianna Pratchett with her wonderfully imaginative sea-based adventure, Crystal of Storms.
I’m often asked which my favourite book is. My answer is that I don’t have an absolute favourite since it’s bit like asking me which one of children is my favourite when I have four! Naturally, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain has to be included because it was the first book and my other three are City of Thieves, Deathtrap Dungeon and Forest of Doom.
Good luck on your adventures and may your STAMINA never fail!
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG