Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Are the ‘Famous Five Adventure Games’ a repeat of ‘Time Machine’?

In addition to the Choose Your Own Adventure and Time Machine books, as a child I also read the Famous Five Adventure Games, of which eight were published based on one of Enid Blyton’s original Famous Five series.

Readers of the Famous Five Adventure Games were required to attempt to solve the mystery themselves via “equipment cards” and “picnic cards”. The reader had three picnic cards and the game was over if all were removed from the “lunchbox” card. A “picnic card” was removed whenever the reader was directed to where Five ate or lost provisions – through losing the lunchbox, having food stolen by a wild animal, or, most often, through having bottles of ginger beer broken. In most cases a “picnic card” would be lost whenever a clue to the mystery was not solved.

In addition to losing picnic cards, less commonly the reader would lose the “equipment cards” needed to solve the clues and avoid losing “picnic cards”. There were four equipment cards for each game:
  1. a map (different for each game)
  2. either of
    • a torch
    • a pair of binoculars
  3. either of
    • a measuring tape
    • a compass
  4. a codebook (different for each game)
When I first read The Sinister Lake Game and then found The Whispering Island Game and The Secret Airfield Game, I noticed that in the latter two games there were only three paragraphs which said:
If you have, it, remove the MAP CARD from your RUCKSACK
whereas in The Sinister Lake Game there were as many as seven. Until I recaptured interest in these old children’s books during my ill-fated librarianship course at RMIT, I never considered the remaining five books that were published in the series at the tail end of the 1980s, but since then I have collected them all and now tabulate the number of “paragraphs” in each game of being asked to give up “equipment cards”:
Game Map Torch Binoculars Measure Compass Codebook Total
Wreckers’ Tower 6 6 6 5 23 7.37% 312
Haunted Railway 6 5 5 5 21 6.60% 318
Whispering Island 3 5 5 4 17 5.38% 316
Sinister Lake 7 4 5 5 21 6.58% 319
Wailing Lighthouse 2 6 3 3 14 4.59% 305
Secret Airfield 3 6 5 3 17 5.65% 301
Shuddering Mountain 3 7 5 4 19 6.05% 314
Missing Scientist 3 4 6 4 17 5.54% 307
Total 33 43 40 33 149 5.98% 2,492
As you can see, there is a definite downward trend over the series as a whole, although this is substantially due to the anomalous initial Wreckers’ Tower Game – which is rather different in game structure and also codebook lettering from the subsequent seven games in the series.

Nevertheless, this result reminds me very strongly of the slightly older Time Machine series, wherein backward loops that could cause a reader to never reach the end were frequent in the initial seven books but virtually disappeared subsequently. I have suspected that this reduced “quality control” reduced the popularity of Time Machine, and it may have had the same effect on the Famous Five Adventure Games – although to a lesser degree as opportunities are naturally more limited.