Matt Chat 46: R.A. Montgomery's Choose Your Own Adventure Series

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This week I interview R.A. "Ray" Montgomery, author and publisher of the famous Choose Your Own Adventure series. If you haven't ever read one of these books, I strongly suggest you get your butt to the local bookshop and pick up a few--they're still very fun today (and they've been updated and re-published by the author's own publishing company). In the video, Ray talks about the origin of the series, what makes them so fun, and also shares some moving personal history involving the loss of his amazing son (who also penned some of the books).

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Bill Loguidice
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I said it on YouTube, and

I said it on YouTube, and I'll say it here. Tremendous job from both sides and all the way around, particularly the ending.

Books!
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Rowdy Rob
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Mr. Montgomery opens many topics of discussion!

Great Matt Chat as usual. Very interesting to see you expand the boundaries of Matt Chat to include things not explicitly about videogames. Clearly the "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" series is not a videogame series, but there's absolutely crossover appeal.

Did you do the CYOA "book montage" video clip yourself, or was that professionally done by the publisher? It was just very slick!

Pretty much all the "geek" kids read these "Choose Your Own Adventure" books back in the day, including myself. If you played D&D, you also read these books, with almost no exceptions that I recall. In fact, it didn't even occur to me that these were educational tools; they were just great fun to read!

Inspired by the CYOA series, I even wrote a few simple ones myself back in the day, and even wrote a computer version on the Atari 8-bit. I could write "literature," but I couldn't program an adventure "parser" system, so the CYOA format made for an easy transition to the computer with my limited programming skills.

Okay... now for the more philosophical side of Mr. Montgomery's interview. I think there's a significant portion of kids who are otherwise underachievers that can be reached by Montgomery's approach, and I've believed it as far back as I remember. This ties into Matt Barton's recent thread here on Real vs. Virtual, which asks the question "how do we make the 'real world' more fun, and more productive as a consequence?" School is primarily rote learning, which is generally boring enough, but the American public school system compounds the problem by gearing the learning pace towards slower learners.

Alas, I think it's too late to save American kids on the whole. It will be up to dedicated parents to keep their own kids up to par, but it seems our society pushes "celebrity" far more than it does achievement. Montgomery's philosophies and books are noble, righteous, and admirable, but there is an extreme uphill battle at best. In the mean time, whole generations of kids (and not just in America) are being lost to the rote-learning-only grind.

I'm sure Mr. Barton, being an instructor himself, will wildly disagree (perhaps to the point of offense) with my dismal assessment of the results of our public school system, but that's how it appears to me.

I could say more, but you get the idea.

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Matt Barton
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Ha! I did the montage

Ha! I did the montage myself, and thanks very much for the compliment, Rowdy. I have big plans for episode #50, where I hope to bring together everything I've learned since #1! I'm a little bummed, though, because I haven't been able to get any leads on James Ohlen, the Baldur's Gate lead designer. I really wanted to interview him, but I'll be damned if I can find anything! If you or anyone else can help, please let me know. I can also interview another member of the BG team--really anyone who has good stories to tell about the development is fine with me.

I have a very poor opinion of the American school system. It's so bad that I think college educated parents are better off homeschooling their kids, assuming they have enough sense to make sure their kids interact as often as possible with other kids their age. There are also some great private schools and academies. My advice in choosing one of those is to look at what happens to their graduates (how many go on to good colleges and careers, etc.)

The public school system is broken beyond repair. Litigation and "standardized testing" and so on have completely emasculated teachers and principals. They are forced to cater to a ridiculous curriculum and encouraged to "cheat" (giving answers, changing scores, etc.) to keep getting federal money. Socially it's worse. Any kid with any interest whatsoever in learning is brutalized by thugs, hated by the opposite sex, bored by a dumbed-down curriculum, and sometimes even tragically driven to suicide or homicide. I can't imagine any sane person wanting to teach in the public education system. You have no power whatsoever to regulate behavior in the classroom, and anything you say can and will be used against you by the administration. Parental involvement is limited to ghastly parents blaming teachers and everyone and everything else for their "precious angel's" inability to learn or respect even the most basic rules of decorum. Finally, on top of all that, teachers are underpaid, schools are underfunded, and any efforts at reform get mired in politics. It's hopeless.

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Rowdy Rob
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American Public Schools = national suicide
Matt Barton wrote:

I have a very poor opinion of the American school system...........The public school system is broken beyond repair............. There are also some great private schools and academies. My advice in choosing one of those is to look at what happens to their graduates (how many go on to good colleges and careers, etc.)

Well, I wasn't expecting THAT from you, Matt, but I agree. I'm surprised that you are attacking the American education system, rather than defending it. In fact, I'm quite passionate about the subject of education, as will be evident in this post. Although I resist posting my political thoughts here on AA, welcome to my political side.

My apologies to AA readers who are not from the U.S., but I'm foaming at the mouth here over this subject as an American. Mark Vergeer is a great example: accomplished, highly-intelligent, well-adjusted, thoughtful, peaceful, humourous, and multilingual. Should we all not aspire to this? As impressive as Mark is, other Dutch people I've met in person seem to fit the same mold! Even though I've never been to the Netherlands, I LOVE the Netherlands simply because of the examples I've met, and I will travel there some day. What the heck is going on over there in the Netherlands???? How can WE as Americans get a piece of that and learn from it? The better educated humanity as a whole is, the better off humanity as a whole is.

Matt Barton wrote:

It's so bad that I think college educated parents are better off homeschooling their kids, assuming they have enough sense to make sure their kids interact as often as possible with other kids their age.

Homeschooling parents, college educated or not, DON'T have the sense to get their kids to interact with others. No exceptions, end of story, case closed! I'm convinced of it!

Okay, that's a pretty broad statement, and hard to support with hard, scientific evidence, I admit. And no parent who home-schools their kids will ever admit that their kids are anything but perfect.

BUT, in my experience, EVERY home-schooled kid I've met ABSOLUTELY fits the stereotype of the "socially-retarded homeschooler." This is not to say that they were BAD kids, and I liked them irregardless, but clearly their lack of social interaction with a large group of peers severely impacted their social skills. Despite my discomfort with their social awkwardness, I somehow liked these kids and felt SORRY for them. They had no one to punch them in the face when they crossed the line.

One girl was very quiet and shy when dealing with "outsiders," another boy would blurt out embarrassing things in polite company that was clearly not meant for public consumption, and another would not hide his feelings at all.

"Hey, Jimmy, look at the cake that Grandma baked for us!"
"I don't like Grandma's cakes. They're too dry...."
(Cue Grandma looking crushed as Jimmy curled his nose. Yes, he said this in front of Grandma. And Jimmy was in his teens, and should have known better. True story.)

Homeschooling is a fringe phenomenon that is NOT the answer. I don't know what scares me more, the "stupid punk" kids from the public schools, or the "socially retarded" home-schooled kids. Both seem to be severely disadvantaged in the "real world" when they grow up. And you can come back, to some extent, from a "bad" educational childhood, but home-schooled social ineptness seems to last forever! But there's far more public school-educated kids than there are home-schooled kids.

I don't know all the answers, but it seems like a good alternative is the "school choice voucher" programs proposed by Conservative groups and *gasp* former President Bush. Privatization of schools would allow for more competition and more experimentation to see what really works. Initiatives like Mr. Montgomery's would have a better chance of being adapted and explored in such an environment. I'd be surprised if Mr. Montgomery wasn't a heavy proponent of such initiatives, rather than trying to fight the impenetrable political bureaucracy of the public school system.

We pit schools against each other via sports, with sports teams giving their all to defeat rivals, and to even make it to the state and national championships. Wouldn't it make more sense for schools to compete ACADEMICALLY? Wouldn't it be better for our kids, our nation, and overall, for all mankind? But no... Jimmy can throw a ball like nobody's business, but can't spell "cat." And that's how we like it.

Matt Barton wrote:

The public school system is broken beyond repair. Litigation and "standardized testing" and so on have completely emasculated teachers and principals. They are forced to cater to a ridiculous curriculum and encouraged to "cheat" (giving answers, changing scores, etc.) to keep getting federal money. Socially it's worse. Any kid with any interest whatsoever in learning is brutalized by thugs, hated by the opposite sex, bored by a dumbed-down curriculum, and sometimes even tragically driven to suicide or homicide. I can't imagine any sane person wanting to teach in the public education system. You have no power whatsoever to regulate behavior in the classroom, and anything you say can and will be used against you by the administration. Parental involvement is limited to ghastly parents blaming teachers and everyone and everything else for their "precious angel's" inability to learn or respect even the most basic rules of decorum. Finally, on top of all that, teachers are underpaid, schools are underfunded, and any efforts at reform get mired in politics. It's hopeless.

It's hard to argue with any of your points above, Matt, except for the "schools are underfunded" part. We spend more per student than just about any country in the industrialized world, yet our students ranked 25th in the world in education. Here's some highlights, slanted towards some of the countries AA regulars are from:

1. Finland
5. Japan
7. Canada
9. Netherlands
16. Ireland
18. Germany
25. United States of America

The U.S. has more than doubled the amount of spending on education in the last 30 years, with little to show for it. Test scores and graduation rates have not improved to a significant degree. The only possible conclusions are A) funding isn't the real problem, or B) Americans are genetically stupid.

While "B" might be what many suspect, I'm more inclined to go with "A: funding isn't the real problem."

Here in South Carolina, we have the "South Carolina Education Lottery." That's right, when people buy scratch-offs and Powerballs, that money is going to the schools! And you can't tell me that people aren't playing the lottery! I know many people who spend significant amounts of cash on it! "The Redneck Retirement Plan," as they say. Yet, when Barack Obama was campaigning here for President, one student complained about their school, complaining that paint was peeling off the walls, among all the other litany of complaints. The news made national headlines. What's going on??? Where's all the money going????? On top of government funding, we're spending all this money on the "education" lottery, yet paint is peeling off the walls in our schools.

I had the "privilege" of meeting a local elementary school principal once during "summer vacation." He was a friend of my friend, who was visiting the school, which is why I was with him. I was just basically tagging along for the ride, but what I saw was quite illuminating.

Well, the principal was clearing out the "computer room" of old computers when we visited. When asked why he was getting rid of the "old" computers, the principle said with a wink, "if we don't spend the money on new computers, the government will cut our budget. It's all part of the game." Needless to say, my impression of him wasn't positive.

Yeah, schools are underfunded. Yeah, right. Well, I don't believe it. It's all a bureaucracy, with teachers unions, school districts, and politicians with their hand in the pot. Rather than cut the funding, why don't we divide the "extra funds" amongst the school staff, including teachers? As long as students improve, shouldn't the school personnel, particularly teachers, be rewarded? But NNNNOOOO.... (to paraphrase John Belushi), we have to encourage bureaucracy and waste.

Sorry for the tirade, but I could have kept going on and on. And I noticed that you (Matt) let the teachers off the hook in your own (otherwise laudable) tirade. I think that, not necessarily the individual teachers, but the teachers UNION as a political body, is also part of the problem.

I don't have kids, but if I had kids, I would put them in a PRIVATE school, which seems to be the best choice for now under the current climate. If I didn't have the economic choice, I would do my best to counteract the damage of the public schools with philosophy, encouragement, and a touch of "homeschooling."

It's too bad Mr. Montgomery will never read this, because his methods are the future, and American kids will be left out. .

I think that if R.A. Montgomery were reading this, he'd agree with me that it's not the money, but the method, that's important. He may not agree with me on everything, but I would dare him to dispute this point. Rote learning is unavoidable, but let's throw a little fun, incentive, and "real world" applications of our knowledge when possible!

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Mark Vergeer
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Wow - flabbergasted

Matt you really did an outstanding job here, excellent montage and the interview with mr Montgomery was very special. The passion of this man and the loss of his son - how proud he is of his lost son brought tears to my eyes.

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Chris Kennedy
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Sweet

I never really latched on to the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I suppose it was mostly because I saw a significant divide between books and video games at the time I read my first (and only) Choose Your Own Adventure book (Ghost Hunter. CYOA #52)

I think I was used to adventure games at this point - both those that were text-based and graphical. There were so many more possibilities in those games that they cheapened the CYOA books. If you went somewhere in an adventure game and hadn't picked up a certain object or talked to a certain person, you could go back to retrieve that object & return to your current location. Without getting into another conversation about getting stuck in adventure games, this seemingly limitless ability to draw on earlier experiences or items retrieved in your current video game seemed to help create more of a world than a CYOA book could.

Still - Seems like it would be fun to pick up a few really cheap and read through them nowadays. I would probably have some odd nostalgia for them despite having not jumped into them back in the day. I suppose my mother (an English teacher) actually contributed to my lack of desire to read the books. She would say something like "awww. Don't read those. Read The Hardy Boys. Read something that you would read straight through from cover to cover."

I feel the need to once again use the word "iPhone." Yes. You can download Return to Atlantis/Journey Under the Sea for iPhone and "click" on the option you want to advance to the next page. It appears that this was the only one the company published to iPhone. I believe it was originally somewhere near $3.99 and can now be purchased for $0.99.

Matt - It is great to see Matt Chat evolve the way it has. Keep up the good work. Make no mistake - I constantly check Armchair Arcade for Matt Chat updates on Fridays. I usually wait for Armchair, but sometimes I get anxious and check youtube.

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Matt Barton
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Hehe, lots of points!

Hehe, lots of points! "Tirade" indeed; you seem to share some of my personal anger over the dismal education system here.

I disagree about the "poor funding isn't the problem" bit. I hear that a lot of talk radio shows and such, but I've yet to see a school that couldn't benefit from more funding. How much do we want to invest in the future of our children? I don't know anyone but truly heartless (and short-sighted people) who think they need to scrape by. What I do agree with 100%, though, is that the money needs to be better spent. I fear that too much gets wasted by raw corruption as well as stupid investments. Where I went to school in Louisiana, for instance, it rained very, very frequently. So, what do they build for the school? Flat roofs. Flat roofs in Louisiana. Of course they leaked incessantly, and we wasted no telling how much patching them up and re-roofing them. I'm sure it all started because "Cousin Billy's an architect, you know, good ol' boy" and landed the contract (with a kickback here and there, too, I'm sure). The big problem here is that education systems are largely controlled by the state and local governments, so the spending is only as good as those bureaucracies are honest. I'd like to say that more federal oversight is needed, but somehow I doubt that would work, either. No one seems to feel bad about bilking the government at every turn. "Transparency" is little more than a buzzword now, but it does seem like the only way to make progress here. If people don't know what's going on behind closed doors, we all suffer.

I've also heard that thing about using all the funding before, too. Again, I see that as a stupid policy to begin with, but it seems like a good administrator would find better ways to spend the money than superfluous computers. As long as he could come up with a reasonable use for the money (re-painting, for instance) he ought to be able to spend the money on THAT. Put the money where it will do the most good.

You just don't get anywhere because there is so little incentive to actually do a good job--and teaching is still seen more as a volunteer, "good for the soul" type charity gig rather than something requiring substantial expertise. Many of our "teachers" were "coaches," hired primarily to coach football. A few were fine, but others...geez. I like the general idea of a competitive system for grants and teacher salaries, but it's difficult (impossible??) to get a reasonably fair assessment to base it on. What if a teacher just lucked out with well-prepared students whose parents read to them and help them with their homework? The next teacher might be stuck with kids who don't speak English at home or whose parents are split up and abusive. Also, I think teachers get dumped with too much responsibility; they're not miracle workers, after all. The systems that are in place tend to reward rote learning and objective testing, which we all know is utterly useless and actually encourages teachers and admins to cheat the system.

I like some if the voucher idea, though at the same time it seems to be a bad form of competition (parasitic, really). In fact, I'd say in some places it amounts to segregation. Of course all the poor black kids will end up in the bad schools with bad teachers, which will be made worse when all the talented teachers go to the private, well-funded schools. Also, there gets to be busing and transportation issues that ruin it. I'm fine with private schools, but I'd say if you're going to have public education then go all the way with it. Don't half ass around and let the rich have all the advantages. A poor kid already has so many things limiting his potential for success already. I don't want to do anything widen that gap still further, where "Johnny" gets the A+ education and "Jerome" gets an F education.

Anyway, Mr. Montgomery certainly has the right idea, though at some point it does fall back on the individual to gain an education. I hear a lot about how class should always be fun and everything should be hands-on and such, but that only goes so far. Somethings must be taught and learned that you can't get from a game. Try to imagine a medical school where all the students fell asleep if their professors didn't dance around in a clown outfit and avoided all "boring" topics and spent most of the time talking about "fun and gross out!!" stuff like farting and such.

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thedevilbunny (not verified)
That's gold Matt! You are

That's gold Matt! You are really doing the good work on these Matt Chats...the games have been great, but this..this really floored me! I loved those books as a kid, and it's great to see the face of the man that wrote my favs. Keep thinking outside the box man!

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