CYOA – Choose Your Own Adventure

10 Oct
October 10, 2012

A journey through your website

Note: I am not a content strategist or marketer, nor am I trying to pretend to be. These are my opinions based on being a web user for the last 15 years, and a web developer for the last 13.

As a child of the ‘80‘s, and a lifelong Science Fiction/Fantasy reader, books like Journey Under the Sea, and other Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books filled many an afternoon of my young life. I remember being enthralled by the choices that I had, and excited that I could make decisions on where the story would go next. I was in control of the journey.

Excerpt from Journey Under the Sea by R.A. Montgomery 1

Journey Under the Sea

The cable attaching the Seeker to the ship Maray is extended to its limit. You have come to rest on a ledge near the canyon in the ocean floor that ancient myth says leads to the lost city of Atlantis.

You have an experimental diving suit designed to protect you from the intense pressure of the deep. You can also cut the Seeker loose and travel further.

As agreed, you signal the Maray: “All systems GO; it’s awesome down here.”

If you decide to explore the ledge where the Seeker has come to rest, turn to page 6. If you decide to cut loose from the Maray and dive with the Seeker into the canyon in the ocean floor, turn to page 4.

Jump forward a few years to high school, and I am in my first computer programming class, writing a CYOA adventure game in BASIC (this was the ‘80s) for a class project. It was awful. The story was overly simplistic, the options minimal, and the experience dismal, but the idea, I think, was there. Provide a story that gives the reader some control.

Today, I build web pages for a living. It’s interesting how similar the tasks then and now are.

A few days ago, I stumbled across a very interesting article on Christian Swinehart of (, where he does a wonderful analysis of  many of the CYOA books. That article really got me thinking that CYOA books, the stories within them, and the user experience that they create have a lot of similarities to a website.

Ok, that might be a stretch, but let’s think about it for a bit. The books themselves are a really a collection of decisions, with some of the text set up to prompt the reader to make a decision. Do I go to page 6 or page 4? If I want to explore the ledge, then page 6 it is. The point is that it’s the user who has the control of where they go next.

Now look at the typical website. It too is filled with decisions that a user must make. Do I click on this link, try the menu, or run a search? Do I read this article first, then move on to comments, or jump out to and shop for Scooby Snacks? The choice is mine.

The point I am trying to make is that just like the readers of CYOA books, the website’s users make choices on where they are going to go on a sites. We, as content authors, marketers, and developers can provide guidance and suggested paths through a website, but ultimately, the users are going to choose their own path.

If you decide to keep struggling towards the surface, turn to page 51.
If you decide to rest quietly, gain strength, and work out a plan, turn to page 53.
Journey Under the Sea pg. 33

Building an Adventure

I don’t mean that your website should be littered with traps and mazes, but it should be interesting and engaging for your users. If your content is boring, then why would anyone read it? Many companies make excuses for not building great content (see 4 Lame excuses brands use for not creating content ). It’s also very important to keep your content current to give your readers a reason to be on your website, and a reason to come back.

Reaching the Treasure

You need to make your site easy to move through, and navigate successfully. If your goal is to get the user to purchase those Scooby Snacks bites, then don’t make them go through a web page equivalent of the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Make it easy for them. Have a clear, simple navigation and easy search functionality.

All Roads Lead to Victory

At least, that is what we hope, but the reality is that not every journey will lead to success. And if you have too many roads, how will the user know what to do, or where to go?

Imagine coming up to an intersection with road signs like this,  and trying to make a decision on which way to go. 2

Make the choices clear and easy to understand. Options are good, but too many options can be overwhelming. Don’t send the user down useless paths, instead make it easy for them to get where they want to go. They will appreciate it.


Ultimately, a user’s journey through your website is based on the decisions that they make. We don’t know what brought them here, or where they will go, or how they will get there. What we can do is to make sure that the experience that they have is worthwhile.


If you decide to try and escape, turn to page 62.
If you try to hitch a ride on the whale, turn to page 83.
If you don’t know what to do, turn to page 86.
Journey Under the Sea page 64


1Journey Under the Sea, R.A. Montgomery, first published in1978 by Chooseco, LLC. ISBN  10 1-933390-02-6 and 13 978-1-933390-02-4

2 Image courtesy of

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