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Gamebooks in Brazil and India: a Comparison

 



Gamebooks in Brazil and India: a Comparison

Pedro Panhoca da Silva

Ph. D. Research Scholar,

Mackenzie Presbyterian University (UPM),

São Paulo, Brazil

 

Abstract

Gamebooks are books whose text dialogues directly with its reader, offering him/her options on how the narrative will continue, sometimes defined by external elements, such as dice rolling, for example. Because they are very similar to videogames that appeal to young people, these playful texts may have potential to be explored and worked on in classes. This work has as a general objective to divulge the gamebook culture existing in Brazil and India, as well as to seek positive results from this cultural scam. For this purpose authors such as Todorov (1975), Silva (2019), Espagne and Magri (2017), the gamebooks Renascido (1996) and Witchsnare (2007) are selected to be used in this paper. Such Brazilian gamebooks may be models of new interactive books for uniting social issues with playful elements, offering readers-players the opportunity to become aware through an immersive interactive reading. With this, the cultural exchange between Brazil and India through their experiences with authentic gamebooks could greatly add to their readership, and encourage the publishing markets of both countries to invest in the search for new authors and new publications of this kind, which would foster their respective consumer audiences with increasingly original and engaged narratives.

Key words:

Gamebooks, Interactive Books, Role-playing Game, Cultural Transference.

Introduction

            When people are talking about gamebook, a frequent question that arises is whether it is a game or a book. According to Silva, gamebook is a hybrid text genre that has united in itself the tree narrative, as it starts in a linear way, like a trunk, and branches over time, like the tree branches, with a system of RPG style rules. Therefore, this textual hybrid has both book characteristics (it needs to be read, has pages, text boxes, among other elements) and game characteristics (it has a rules system, adventure sheet, use of external play elements such as dice or playing cards, among others).

The narrative of a gamebook gives the reader-player choices as to how the narrative can proceed through “text boxes”, and the selections he/she makes directly influence the end, which may or may not be what was expected. In this way, the reader-player is constantly advancing and receding in this playful reading, as can be seen in this example:                      

              32

                        Bags of grain lie on the floor of the hut, and strips of dried meat are hung on a counter; you also see bread and other food. Behind the counter, a weak villager is behind a bag of herb roots. When you enter, he tries to hide, but you have seen him. If you have some coins, you can buy provisions. Otherwise, you can try to steal and leave. If you want to buy provisions, you can spend 1 gold piece (go to 131) or 2 gold pieces (go to 146). If you prefer to steal, go to 410. If you go away and continue west, out of the village, go to 274 (Jackson).

 

It is noticeable that the hero/heroin has in this text box – number32 – four options, and depending on his/her choice the narrative will take him/her to a text box different from the sequential one – number 33. With this, the reading done in a sequential way will not present any coherence to the reader-player. Unlike a "tabletop RPG" in which players play characters in a narrative being built orally and conducted by a game master in order to accomplish a common mission, in the gamebook there is no group, because the mission is given only to one character, commanded by the reader-player. Although very similar in many aspects, the RPG in group and the gamebook – a kind of a one-player RPG – differ by the fact that "while the RPG focuses more on RP [Role-Playing], ie, uses more the concept of Mimicry [simulacrum], the focus of the gamebook is the G [Game] – Agon [competition] and Alea [good or bad luck]" (Silva 44).

Still according to Silva, the gamebook differs from the solo adventure by its extent and the media in which it is published. A gamebook can be appreciated without the obligation of acquiring external rules manuals, since it has its own system of rules. On the other hand, solo adventures may require complementary rulebooks – when they work as ready-made adventures to facilitate the involvement of one or more readers-players in a certain RPG game, such as Buffalo Castle, by Rick Loomis, for example – or be just a small interactive tale, such as Jogo Demoníaco, by Di'follkyer and Paladino. In addition, solo adventures are usually published as a supplement to books, such as Buffalo Castle, or as a literary section in RPG magazines, such as Jogo Demoníaco.

If compared to interactive fiction, the gamebook has the differential of having more than the tree narrative as a playful element. Thus, hypertextual narratives such as Kim Newman's Life's Lottery cannot be considered as gamebooks, while Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's The Warlock of Firetop Mountain can be (Silva 27).

These interactive books have marked the generation of readers of the 80's and 90's in several countries, mainly European and American (Silva 152). After a decadence in the 2000s, today the game element is slowly becoming part of the daily lives of young readers, although it is difficult to reach the result of millions of sales that the pioneer series achieved (Green 21). Its plots vary a lot, but there is still a preference for the wonderful, which means that supernatural elements are part of characters´ daily life (Todorov 60), set in the RPG universe, with adventures full of missions, dangers, enigmas, monsters, magic and, mainly, choices to be made. As well as interactive fiction and adventure-solo, gamebooks were the solution for RPG players without groups around (Loomis 1), and the creation of new hybrids, such as gamecomics (Silva 28) and the interactive Black Mirror episode: Bandersnatch.

Over time, countries that translated the most successful European and North American gamebook series began to publish their own gamebooks, far from the reach of the pioneers of the genre. However, to classify them as interactive books of lesser quality or relevance is to generalize and underestimate them. Despite not having known a great number of sales, two cases in particular deserve to be highlighted to the point of being the target of more detailed studies in their respective countries and even outside them as a model of valorization of their own culture to be followed by those who have not yet done so. In Brazil, Renascido can be classified as the first gamebook to set its narrative in the Brazilian context, and Witchsnare possibly the first Indian production of the type.

Brazilian Case: the Gamebooks that were Born until Renascido

            In 1994, Brazil, which already had translations of the main foreign gamebooks, brought to its readers-players a plot almost totally focused on the narrative of the wonderful, with rare exceptions in science fiction or horror. Alex Vides decided to innovate and publish O Herói da Copa, the first Brazilian gamebook that can barely be considered one due to its reduced narrative-game and almost total absence of a system of rules, since the only playful element is the randomness of a six-sided dice roll that sometimes decides which reference the reader should choose. However, this "gamebooklet" (Silva 59) had a premonitory character for having been released exactly in the year of the fourth-time world soccer champion. In addition, it was the first to innovate and put the most popular sport in Brazil in gamebook format, even if in a simple way. Its sales technique was also unique: it was sold on newsstands, where many young people bought his packages of stickers – including the 1994 World Cup – and comic books. Far from knowing the editorial impact of The Warlock of the Firetop Mountain, the gamebook showed pioneering spirit for being the forerunner of the Brazilian gamebook and opening the way for other national productions (Silva 60), and was even mentioned in the media focused on RPG (Freitas 4).

            Brazilian gamebook would begin to be formed one year later, with the publication of Era Uma Vez... A Vingança de Mag Mor. At that time, readers-players had the first consolidated Brazilian gamebook. Still seeking innovation for the national gamebook, Luiz Eduardo Ricon, Ygor Morais Esteves da Silva and Carlos Eduardo Pereira Klimick, companions of GSA publishing house, the company responsible for creating the first Brazilian RPGs and periodicals of the genre, produced this adventure-style gamebook.

A year later, GSA decided to release Estandarte Sangrento, by Ricardo Andreiolo, the first gamebook set in a Brazilian RPG, the pioneer Tagmar. This gamebook, in turn, was the first to receive an exclusive review in a newspaper (Cabral). Although it was the result of an adaptation of a national RPG to gamebook, something unpublished until then, its plot was still tied to wonderful fiction, the "classic" theme of RPG (Silva 62).

After a short period in Brazil getting to know what its first gamebooks were, in fact, a work deserved to be highlighted among the little that had been published until then. Renascido would not take his reader-player to a magical kingdom, nor to the clichés of battles against monsters in the service of an evil sorcerer who kidnapped the daughter of a powerful king. In it, the identification with the protagonist was already happening since the beginning of the plot. In this gamebook by Carlos Klimick, the reader-player would decide what a young man named Marcos – or another young man to be invented by him/her – would do after returning to the world of the living  after being murdered by drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro, he same people who kidnapped his sister. This interactive adventure was set in the periphery of Rio de Janeiro in a dark climate that added a grotesque version of national folklore to the scenario of urban violence, far from being mathematical structures (Morin 26). The fantasy of this narrative occurs in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, full of drug dealers, firearms and funk parties. Instead of sword and courage, the hero is a kind of materialized ghost that uses his supernatural powers in search of revenge (Silva 65). It can be seen that the presence of the fantastic in Renascido fits Todorov's classification, since Rio de Janeiro´s periphery scene is perfectly acceptable as real to the reader-player, but inserted in it are extraordinary events. Thus, the fantastic borns when something supernatural happens in people´s everyday life and break its natural laws. (Todorov 31).

Although the storyline of Renascido is reduced when compared to the "400 standard" created by the first gamebooks, that is, narrative whose length reaches 400 text boxes (Silva 152) – it has only 136 – its adventure provides the reader-player with immersion as deep as any pioneer gamebook by various strategies:

·         the proximity to the protagonist, Marcos, a Brazilian name, a young man from Rio de Janeiro, inhabitant of this city periphery;

·         the empathy for the search for justice, with Marcos returning to the world to save his kidnapped sister;

·         the instigating unusual plot, a ghost with supernatural powers and allies;

·         the intertextualities with the national culture, as legends from Brazilian folklore, soccer stadium, open television program, among others;

·         the decision of narrative continuation choices, characteristic mark of this type of interactive book.

 

More than a pamphlet text that aims to denounce the context of violence in which Rio de Janeiro – still – finds itself, Renascido is interactive literature, is a game, is a debate about social issues and can be much more, depending only on a reader-player, a pencil, an eraser, a pair of dice and, like any Brazilian gamebook, deserves greater disclosure and appreciation by publishers, mediators of reading and large media.

The Initial Indian Production

Brazil has a sporadic production of gamebooks, but from 2015 onwards annual publications are known to the public, although this frequency of novelties of this hybrid textual genre is not comparable to that of European countries. India, however, has only a few scattered works published:

Figure 1: list of gamebooks published in Brazil and India1

 

YEAR

BRAZIL

INDIA

1994

O Herói da Copa

-

1995

Era Uma Vez... A Vingança de Mag Mor

-

1996

Estandarte Sangrento

-

Renascido

Espectro

1997

Viver ou Morrer: Esta é a Jogada!

-

1998

O Mistério da Gruta

-

1999

A Missão de Krogh

-

2000

No Coração dos Deuses

-

2001

-

-

2002

-

-

2003

-

-

2004

A Travessia do Liso Suçuarão: uma aventura pelo Grande Sertão de João Guimarães Rosa

-

2005

-

-

2006

-

-

2007

-

Witchsnare

2008

-

-

2009

-

The Enemy of my Enemy

2010

-

Banana Republic: The Enemy of my Enemy II

2011

-

-

2012

Viver ou Morrer (volume 1)

-

2013

Viver ou Morrer (volume 2)

-

2015

Ataque a Khalifor

-

2016

O Senhor das Sombras

-

2017

O Inimigo Digital

-

Sobreviver

-

DezAventuras

-

2018

O Labirinto de Tapista

-

Mercenários do Caos

Vale da Morte

Servos da Escuridão

Reinos da Destruição

Cercado por Mortos

2019

O Manto de Coragem

-

2020

-

-

 

What can also be noticed between the production of gamebooks from both countries is the trajectories gamebooks have known in both are different. While in Brazil it appeared in 1994, consolidated itself in 1995, knew a publishing gap for more than 10 years (2004-2015), but resurfaced and lasts until today, in India its production lasted only a few years this if the database in question has not added new Indian publications.

Graph 1: list of gamebooks published in Brazil and India

 


India, like Brazil, experienced a cultural transfer (Espagne & Magri) of the gamebook after more than a decade in the second half of the 2000s. Another point in which the first Indian gamebooks resembled the Brazilians is their initial phase aimed at mimicking the pioneer series that were translated. As their production was not leveraged by the country's publishing market, it would be natural to remain in the wonderful narrative and not obtain maturity to idealize gamebooks focused on the country's social reality. Therefore, only in 2007, probably, the first Indian gamebook of this kind is published: Witchsnare.

A Case Study: Witchsnare

Ashok Rajagopalan, whose pseudonyms are Ashok Raj and Kenny Wordsmith, is an Indian writer and illustrator. Of humble origin, he drew early on with limited resources at home. At school, he was often asked to do artwork for colleagues and teachers. His practice and technique, combined with school and family encouragement, were certainly elements that influenced Rajagopalan not to pursue an academic career, but an artistic one (Rajagopalan).

A graduate engineer and having worked as a marketing executive, he decided to abandon this career. Fan of illustrations by Peanuts and several titles by DC and Marvel Comics (Parthasarathy), he contributed with about 500 books, mainly children's, until 2010, he also worked as graphic designer and cartoonist. Impulse Hoot and Impulse Toot were two magazines he worked with (Thomas). His debut as an illustrator was in the children's magazine Chandamama with Junior Quest, in 1989, and from then on he collaborated with important publishers such as Tulika, Macmillan, Oxford, Orient Longman and University Press, as well as video animations (Vijay). Rajagopalan believes that the success of his work is to have maintained his love for reading and never repress his own imagination (Thomas). Rajagopalan, famous as an illustrator, admits that publishing as an author was an old personal wish (Thomas). His main influences are P. G. Wodehouse and Isaac Asimov.

There is no much information about the gamebook Witchsnare. It is known, however, that its language is English and was released by Penguin India. It contains illustrations by the author himself, signed as Ashok Raj, with cover art by R. C. Prakash. It is a fantasy adventure set in the universe of Pushpasthala (Katz). It offers 10 different endings, depending on the choices the reader-player makes. The protagonist's mission is to take an amulet and make the best way through Pushpasthala to Princess Priyakumari's palace, full of traps and mazes and populated by zombie guards, wise men, rebels and a mysterious witch. It was Rajagopalan's debut book, which then went on to publish sequential reading narratives (Parthasarathy).

The origin of this gamebook came from Rajagopalan's contact with Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, then publisher of Penguin India. Ghosh had asked Rajagopalan if he had any idea to turn in a book, and Rajagoplan presented him the manuscript of Ajit the archer, a book about a girl – Ajita – who is bullied for being very thin, but who is also brave and skillful. Ghosh asked if Rajagopalan could transform it into a gamebook, and so Withcsnare emerged(Rajagopalan). However, the author of Witchsnare believes his debut book has not met with good reader-player reception because Indians are not so familiar with this hybrid textual genre, and possibly an online version would have more success (Vijay).

Even though the moment was not favorable for Rajagoplan, Witchsnare served to generate opportunities for new publications for the author, and also to be a milestone in the short history of the Indian gamebook, which can be continued by potential new writers who maintain contact with the best of both worlds: literature and games.

            Even with slow production and little publicity, gamebooks have great potential for reading and even teaching. The immersion provoked in young people is a fundamental factor to attract the interest of reader-players, because who is totally involved in a pleasant narrative knows that he can compare such an experience with a dive in the ocean or in a swimming pool, surrounded by a non-natural reality that takes the attention of this reader-player, that takes him/her out of the known zone and gives him/her the pleasant sensation of exploring the zone of the unknown (Murray 102).

In this way, Renascido gathers mythical and contemporary elements in itself, creating another reality for Rio de Janeiro violence scenario and bringing its reader-player to live in the skin of a spectral figure who seeks, through choices involving persecution and action, the noble act of preventing his sister from knowing the same end as him. Witchsnare, in turn, approaches the gamebook pattern full of fantastic elements. Even with low public acceptance, he can come to inspire differentiated productions, focused on the rich Indian culture that enchants the world so much.

Although many dares to affirm that the gamebook is a pastime of the last century that survives in a romantic way in the present, the case of Bulgaria is a good proof that the current gamebook has the same task of the last century: to enchant readers-players by its proposal of ludic reading. Several Bulgarian authors of interactive fiction and gamebooks were awarded between the years 2016 and 2017, often surpassing international best sellers (Silva), a triumph that shows that there is the interest of young people for national interactive books.

What can be gauged is that this kind of reflective gamebook, the case of the Renascido and Witchsnare, is far from being labeled as a mere hobby or distracting reading, because its potential is great and comprehensive, and through the mediations and impressions of them readers-players are able to at the same time charm its audience and propose a re-evaluation of the principles of oneself and others. With this, the exchange of experiences on the potential of gamebooks between India and Brazil can be very useful for both sides.

Conclusion

Both Brazil and India could help each other a lot with mutual releases and translations of their gamebooks. Renascido can be a great inspiration for gamebooks based on Indian folklore. It is known that India, for example, does not have gamebooks that address its rich folklore, and a gamebook about it would be very attractive for young readers-players to get to know its folklore through interactive pastiches. Witchsnare can be a gamebook awakening new productions, both focused on the pattern of fantasy and on gamebooks with more engaged content.

With this, one realizes that gamebooks are much more than books and games in hybrid combination. Besides offering interactive narratives to their audience, they can function as a pedagogical tool in the classroom, promoting debates to add knowledge and culture to those who know little about folklore and cultures of diverse peoples. The academic studies could grow in the Brazil-India cooperation through the exchanged experiences that both countries have had with them in the past and in the present, to then think about future benefits. This could happen through academic conferences and scholarships for scholars from both countries.

The publishing market itself could benefit from more socially engaged gamebooks, through foreign translations and national publications. This would open the field for new authors of this specific literature, and an important cultural exchange between both countries. This would enable these countries to get closer to each other on behalf of common social issues by raising the awareness of young readers.

Just as Klimick and Andrade offered gamebooks to the Brazilian public tired of the marvelous standard of narrative RPG, Brazilian and Indian publishers could invest in this "novelty" of gamebooks for the new and old generations of readers-players. And everyone would benefit thanks to this way of instigating reading, playing, debate and mutual help.

End Note

1.      Due to the difficult and limited access to more accurate information regarding Indian gamebooks, the world's largest database, https://gamebooks.org/, was used as the basis for the comparative table. Thus, for the Brazilian works were considered as gamebooks to compose the table those that have some game elements or a proper game system (Full Game System). It is not known even if the Indian gamebooks mentioned in the table above have their own rules system, because the database does not bring detailed information about them. Thus, it is suspected that the list of Indian gamebooks may be smaller or even not exist yet, while there may be gamebooks not yet registered, which have not even been included in that database. Such a note also serves the purpose of graph 1.

 

Works Cited

Andreiolo, Ricardo. Estandarte Sangrento. Rio de Janeiro: GSA, 1996.

“Bandersnatch”, Black Mirror, created by David Slade, performances by Fionn     Whitehead,Will Poulter, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe and Asim Chaudry, interactive         episode, House of Tomorrow/Netflix, 2018. Netflix.

Cabral, Alexandre. “RPG em 1996 - "RPG & CARDS" Jornal O             Globo”.Blogspot,http://publicadosbrasil.blogspot.com/2012/09/rpg-em-1996-rpg-   cards-jornal-o-globo.html.

Di’follkyer & Paladino. “Assalto ao Mestre Arsenal”. Dragão Brasil, no. 11, 1995, pp. 20-27.

Espagne, Michel; Magri, Dirceu. “A noção de transferência cultural”. Jangada. no. 9, 2017, pp.    136-147.

Freitas, Luiz Eduardo Ricon de. “Aventureiros solitários”. Caderno RPG, no.3, 1994, pp. 2-4.

Green, J. You are the Hero: Part 2 - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks.     Oxfordshire:Snowbooks, 2017.

Jackson, S. Criatura Selvagem. Translated by Gustavo Brauner, Porto Alegre: Jambô, 2010.

Jackson, S.; Livingstone, I. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. 1st ed.London: Penguin Books,      1982.


Katz, Demian. “Series – Witchsnare”. Demian´s Gamebook Web Page,      
https://gamebooks.org/Series/1155/Show.

Klimick, C. Renascido. Rio de Janeiro: Akritó, 1996.

Klimick, C. et al. Era do Caos. Rio de Janeiro: Akritó, 1997.

Klimik, C. et al. Era Uma Vez... A Vingança de Mag Mor. Rio de Janeiro: GSA, 1995.

Loomis, R. Buffalo Castle. 2nd ed. Arizona: Flying Buffalo, 1978.

Morin, E. Cultura de massas no século XX: o espírito do tempo. 4th ed. Translated by Maria         Teresa Sardinha. Rio de Janeiro: Neurose, Forense Universitária, 1977.

Murray, J. H. Hamlet no Holodeck: o futuro da narrativa no ciberespaço.Translated by Elissa       Khoury Daher e Marcelo Fernandez Couzziol. São Paulo: Itaú Cultural, Unesp, 2003.

Newman, K. Life’s Lottery. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Parthasarathy, Anusha. “Colours of innocence”. The Hindu,             https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/colours-of-    innocence/article4952575.ece.

Raj, A. Witchsnare. London: Penguin, 2007.


Rajagopalan, Ashok. “F-Page – Ashok Rajagopalan”.           Plusminus´n´more,
http://plusminusnmore.rapo.in/f-page-ashok-rajagopalan/.

Silva, P. P. “HQ-jogo: uma história em quadrinhos em que você é o herói”. Revista Unesp             Ciência, no. 98, 2018, pp. 28-29.

Silva, P. P.O livro-jogo e suas séries fundadoras. 2019. 326 f. Thesis (M.A. in Languages) –          São Paulo State University (UNESP), College of Sciences and Languages, Assis,     2019.

Thomas, Liffy. “Keeping the child in him alive”.       2010.https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/Keeping-the-child-in-him-         alive/article16045915.ece.

Todorov, Tzvetan. Introdução à literatura fantástica. Translated by Maria Clara Correa      Castello. Perspectiva, 1975.

Vides, Alex. O Herói da Copa. Marques Saraiva, 1994.

Vijay, Hema. “Variety is the art of life”.        2013.https://www.deccanherald.com/content/350332/variety-art-life.html.