Chain of thought is a funny thing. I was driving to work t'other day, toxifying the beautiful countryside with my gas guzzling SUV (fantasising I was a member of CTU from 24) when an old Pulp song came on the stereo. The song was called 'Something Changed' from the album Different Class. In essence it's about what would have happened if Jarvis and his lass had never met- would she be with someone else instead? What if he'd decided to go and have a beer or stay in bed instead of going out and first meeting his missus.
I'd actually bought it for my wife back when it came out as we were both Pulp fans and we'd just started going out- me in Scarborough, her in Stoke. It seemed to capture the sense we had at the time that this was more than just a short term thing- and 16 years later I suppose I can say we were right about that! (picture me getting home tonight to find that she's eloped with the pool attendant Juan...)
So onwards my brain goes and I start thinking how much life is like a Fighting Fantasy book. Man, I loved those books. I can remember the first one I bought- The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I was probably 10 and I'd seen the DnD stuff that my mate Nick's older brothers used and been eager to play it, but our attempts were chaotic as we didn't really 'get' it. So when I found this book on holiday in Scotland I thought that it was the next best thing.
I must have spent all the time that I didn't ski that week playing the book. I had no dice so I used ripped pieces of paper numbered 1-6. I mapped it all out. Loved it. Loved the nagging uncertainty of choice within it.
Citadel of Chaos (with the bloody Gangees in it) and Forest of Doom (Yaztromo rocks) were bought on return to Leeds and then I was an addict. Me and Dan (my brother) must have got 20 or so of the series, plus the spin-offs like Sorcery. Some other series tried to emulate them (like Lone Wolf) but usually they just complicated it to try make it more grown up. WTF? It was supposed to be a gung-ho slaughter fest- with increasingly graphic endings ( Demon bird lays eggs in your brain...your adventure ends here...). I nursed what I thought was a dark secret as I read the books, always keeping my thumb at the prior entry lest the choice I'd made resulted in my arse being consumed by a frisky ghoul...turned out everyone did it (the thumb part, not the arse-chomping).
Inevitably I moved on to, well, every role-playing game available from 1984-1990. The books fell by the way-side but I can't forget the buzz of playing them for those early days and the wonderful illustrations.
(As an aside I found them in my bro's garage the other month and have bestowed them upon my 9 year old- and so it begins again...)
So is life like Fighting Fantasy? I ponder my life as I stumble into middle-age and, like Pulp, think about those significant choices and indeed some less significant. Where would I be if I'd chosen -pursue your love of comics and go to art college (turn to p345)? rather than -decide that blood and brains are more fun, train as a doctor (turn to p132)? Well I'd probably be a good sight poorer, probably not as happy, and I wouldn't have met my wife.
Other choices- which university would you like to spend 5 years drinking at? If it is Leeds go to p109, if Cardiff go to p222, if London your adventure is over. Such choices ripple through your life- if I'd gone to Cardiff or London would I live and work where I am now? If me and Amanda had chosen to stay in Australia would we have kids..the same kids?
It gets mind-blowing at times. I wonder just how free some of those choices were? Now my choices are constrained heavily by family, debt, money, career, that weigh like Marley's chains around me (OK that's over-dramatic...family aren't a chain, although kids do limit your options more than a rabbit did). But even back in those formative years how much freedom did I truly have? My choice of career was undoubtedly influenced by my mum being a physio and me spending time as a kid hanging around hospitals. It didn't dictate my choice- but there was bias within me. Your choice of spouse is hardly totally random- its not an episode of Blind Date after all. It's like the entries in the Fighting Fantasy Book of Life have some clue, perhaps they're in italics or bold.
And without being morbid one of them will have "Your adventure end here" when you turn the page. I've had one or two scrapes over the years that have almost ended on those entries (Car engine on fire...that's a great story...). And sadly, and I know this from random sad shit that happens at work on Intensive Care, you don't always have a choice about turning a page and can't keep your thumb at the last entry.
But when I look back I've chosen my adventure well so far. I've had a fair few 5s and 6s with my dice rolls and beat some tough monsters. I've got a full character sheet, with a vorpal wife +5, three Kids of Exhausting Fun, a house almost as good as Baba Yaga's Hut and a Career of Extra-Healing that generally works well.