Sunday, April 26, 2015


Everyone cheats in gamebooks.  It's just so easy.
How was he supposed to know about the boulder?

"Oh, really, I'm dead after opening that nondescript door.  I guess I'll just pop right back to the previous paragraph and open the other one."

"I've fought this combat four times now and lost.  I'm just gonna pretend I beat this Razaak guy."

How many times has that thought, with minor variations, rattle around in our heads?  And how many times do we act on them?  If it's me then the answer to both questions is 'All the time.'

Do we feel guilty about this.  I mean, surely it's cheating isn't it?  We're not playing by the rules.

Well, I've decided to throw away my guilt and tell the world that 'cheating' in gamebooks is more than OK - it should be encouraged.

First of all, lets look at cheating.  What do people cheat at?  They cheat at games, they cheat on their partners, they cheat on exams, they can cheat themselves if they are trying to keep up with an exercise regime or diet.  All of these things have something in common - the person is trying to maintain a level of behaviour in order to keep someone happy or make someone else's life better (everyone has to abide by the same rules to make the game work, stay faithful to keep their partners happy, get a mark that reflects their ability on an exam or they will end up in over their head at some point and stick to their regime if they want to stay fit).

However, with a gamebook, it's just you and the book.  And the book doesn't care about what you do
with it.  Sure, the author might care, but they're not there and they will probably never find out what you are doing with their book.  So, if your die 'tips over' onto a 6 when you roll for skill, you haven't upset anyone.  You're happy because you have a skill of 12 and there's no one else around to mind.  And will it affect you badly in the long term, because you cheated then?  No, it doesn't.  You're not playing a gamebook to get fit, you're playing it for entertainment purposes.  If you have a skill of 12, you're probably going to be more entertained because that skill 10 wyvern that just ambushed you about 20 paragraphs in won't kill you off before your adventure has even begun.

Who cares if you read all the paragraphs in numerical order or every paragraph ending in 5?  If that's what makes you happy, that's what you can do.

There's a reason why Brad Pitt's face is blocking your
view to Edward Norton's face in this scene.
I regularly don't approach books and films in the way that they are intended - I like to know everything that is going on in them before I read or see them.  I like to read the last pages of a book before the first.  Why?  Because if I know what is going on, I can appreciate the other aspects of the book or the film, such as how it leads up to the ending (which is an  interesting puzzle in itself), the description, the characters, the jokes.  I don't have to spend ages focusing on where the plot is going.

It's basically like I'm watching Fight Club the second time round (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, stop reading this immediately and watch Fight Club twice before you go back to your cave).

If you want a gamebook version of Fight Club, you should read The Evil Eye by S.J Bell.

Gamebook people have caught on with this.  Early Tin Man games versions of their apps did not haveJon Green's  Fighting Fantasy books from the 90s with the ones from the 00s, you will find out that they are less hard, because, as Jon said once, that his motives became less about beating the cheats and more with entertaining people.
options to heal or go back to previous paragraphs, but they quickly worked out that it is what gamebook people want.  If you compare

In a funny way, if loopholes are too obvious, then it kind of destroys the desire to exploit them.  For example, I found a really cool way to level grind in Fabled Lands.  I would play as a warrior, complete some easy quest, and, when I was established, I would buy a boat, get the best crew I could and sail up and down.

It is a big and beautiful world.
The reason being that, eventually I would be attacked by pirates.  Since I was a warrior, I could roll 3 dice instead of 2 to fight the pirates off, increasing my chance of a decisive victory, which would lead to lots of loot and also an increase in rank, which would make it even more likely for me to do the same thing next time I encountered some pirates.  However, people would not consider that fair, and anyway, it is a pretty boring thing to do, especially when you have a whole world of wonders to explore.  Doing it would make exploring more boring as you would easily win every combat you came across.  It would take all the tension away.

So go ahead - flick through the book, fudge dice rolls, pretend you have items when you don't, give
yourself a few more life points and use that five fingered bookmark like it's going out of fashion (so if you're playing Crypt of the Sorcerer, you might as well just read paragraph 400) - It's not hurting anyone, so if it makes your experience richer, then cheat away!


  1. Cheating is a symptom of crummy design. If you had no way of knowing left door = death, right door = life, then the author cheated, not you. If you're rolling dice dozens of times on EVERY enemy with no real decisions, that's make-work, not combat, and certainly not fun.

  2. If a game or gamebook is fairly balanced, then cheating can reduce enjoyment because you end up overpowered. Cheating also makes the game finish quicker, which is a bad thing if you're enjoying it. I've had experiences of spoiling computer games by finding game-breaking loopholes too early, which ruin the tension and make the whole thing little more than narrative progression. In these cases, I think cheating is breaking a psychological contract of sorts - the game designer or author is providing a particular reading experience designed on the assumption you're playing fair, on the basis that if you play fair you'll be challenged and enjoy the game.

    However, I think you're referring to a pretty common scenario in which the gamebook is imbalanced against the reader. Random instadeaths, battles which require maximum stats or are almost unwinnable, luck rolls loaded against the player. It's all too common in the Fighting Fantasy series - Caverns of the Ice Witch, Crypt of the Sorcerer, Spellbreaker, etc. In these cases, I think most players cheat because the author has broken the "psychological contract" because the difficulty level is far too high and the book is frustrating, not enjoyable.

    But doing the same thing with an easier gamebook can still reduce enjoyment. For example, I played Rings of Kether assuming it required super-stats and completed it on the second try. I "rolled" a Skill 12 character for one of the new FF's (Howl of the Werewolf I think) and didn't realise it was working on the assumption of a maximum player skill of 10. Completed it easily with a "WTF is that it?" reaction.

    There are also occasions where pretending you have an item, password etc that you need but don't have spoils the narrative progression of the story - I once made the mistake of "dropping" an item in Magehunter (it doesn't say you can't!) and ended up in an entirely different part of the storyline with no idea what was going on. If you're playing a "finding where the heck the author's hidden the keys" gamebook, then pretending you have the items pretty much negates the need to play most of the book at all.

    So nowadays, I'll generally start out playing fair. If bad things start happening (my skill 8 hero gets squished by a skill 10 yeti three sections in), I'll start rigging stats and rechecking doors. If I'm still getting frustrated (think Blood of the Zombies), I'll give up playing the book and just check sections to follow the narrative progression and map what needs to be done. Whether or not I cheat is a pretty good indication of how balanced and enjoyable the gamebook is.