1930’s Consider the Consequences!, the First Book to Offer a Choice-Based Branching Narrative

Hi all, I recently completed a preservation project that might be of interest to those curious about the history of interactive fiction, in this case, of a path not taken.

As I learned several years ago from Jason Dyer’s A Very Brief History of Gamebooks, Consider the Consequences! is a 1930 book by two women, Doris Webster and Mary Alden Hopkins, that appears to be the first published work of fiction that provides the reader control of a branching narrative through explicit choices. Ie, choose your own adventure decades before CYOA was a thing.

As well as its historical significance and a fun read, the book shows an alternate path choice-based popular fiction might have taken if Consider the Consequences!’s approach had caught on like the official Choose Your Own Adventure series did in the 70’s/80’s.

Differences between Consider the Consequences!’s approach and the standards later set by CYOA books:

  1. Written in third person instead of second person. Instead of becoming a protagonist, the reader is making choices for a separate character.

  2. Instead of one protagonist, it follows three, each getting their own third of the book, and their possible stories and relationships overlap in a love triangle.

  3. Not aimed at kids and doesn’t draw on fantasy subject matter, instead presenting “real-life” adult dilemmas like whether to refuse the responsible but boring suitor your parents favor or whether to risk your job by reporting on your boss’ financial shenanigans.

It also provides nifty graphs of each character’s branch of choices, precursors of Sam Kabo Ashwell’s exhaustive visualizations of choice-based game design patterns.

Also of note, the authors explicitly position it as a game, and suggest playing it collaboratively. From its intro:

“This game may be played as solitaire, a courting game, or a party stunt. When the players disagree, follow the choice of the majority, but make a note of the dissenting opinion, so that you can return later and find out what happens to Helen—or Jed or Saunders—when other advice is followed.”

You can read it on archive.org here: Consider The Consequences 1930 : Doris Webster and Mary Alden Hopkins : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive


Some related links…


Thanks for those links, Strident. Looking back at my Goodreads review of the book from last year, I see I wrote that I found out about the book from the Renga in Blue article (instead of James Ryan’s tweets), so I updated my post to correct that credit.

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As long as we’re listing historical antecedents… I’m on the beach for a couple of days, and someone brought Cain’s Jawbone.

I don’t expect we’ll make a lot of progress on it.


I’ve considered picking up Cain’s Jawbone, but I read that the current publisher stopped doing answer verification after someone won the prize for being the first (for this printing) to get it right, and I think it would kill me not to be able to check.

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There are a couple of public forums where people worked on it collaboratively and recorded their results. The BlueRenga crowd did it last year – or at least part of it – and I think they have a Google doc up.


whoa, did you digitize this? Awesome!!! When I read it last year I had to inter-library loan it and I was sad that I couldn’t share it with my friends very easily (also… I thought this book didn’t enter the public domain until 2026?). I thought it was interesting that the choices for the woman are so varied, with some being pretty progressive according to my stereotypes of the past.

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From what I’ve read (here for instance) US books published between 1928-1963 needed to have their copyright renewed on their 28th year or else they entered the public domain (if the copyright was renewed, the new deadline for entering the public domain then becomes 95 years after publication). In the lists of copyright renewals available online I can’t find a renewal for Consider the Consequences!, so I believe it’s safely public domain.

Yes, I agree a good number of the choices and outcomes seem surprisingly progressive for the time period, like the narrative giving positive reinforcement to Helen for seeking out work and independently supporting herself, and, as an example of sparing her from what would seem typical judgement of the era, in one branch she has an extramarital affair that instead of leading to some kind of life-tarnishing punishment, it actually gives her experience that makes her subsequent faithful marriage stronger!

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Oh, the copyright is expired, that’s fantastic news. :clap::clap::clap: