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Pick Your Own Path on the Oregon Trail

A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story Based on the Original Game


A Non-Linear Experience in Physical Form

Readers of this book can make choices at “story nodes'', which are pieces of story information with an illustration that lead to different branches in the narrative. Much like a digital point-and-click adventure, but in an extremely tactile form, a reader can make a choice at a story node, and then follow a leder line that extends off the page onto one of 18 tab slots on each book’s spread. When the reader hooks their finger back into the book, they are led to the next story node that represents the consequence of the choice that they made.


The writing and the development of the navigation system for the book happened simultaneously, and the visual design was implemented after that. Using the original Oregon Trail computer game from the 1980’s as inspiration, we studied the game’s structure by playing it through an online emulator and recording our gameplay. The visual design for the story also was led by a retro and nostalgic mood that was inspired by the original Oregon Trail game.

Fitting a Complex IA into the Pages of a Book

Creating the information architecture of the book was the foremost challenge of this project, but it was made even more challenging by the constraints of the book’s construct. When a reader makes a choice at a story node on any given page (ie “Would you like to ford the river, yes or no?”), they follow a leder line off the edge of the page, and when their finger hits a tab that extends out of the book, they can hook their finger into that page to continue following the story.

The Readers

I created a prototype of the book to share with readers before we finalized the story. Questions to testers included:


  • Is this fun?

  • Is it challenging?

  • How easy or difficult was it to understand how to operate the book?

  • How well does the story and experience hold your attention?

  • Could you compare the experience of reading the book to anything else?

  • Did you experience any “bugs” (areas where content did not link up properly)?

Results & Learnings: Can't "Math" Your Way Out of Everything

In the end, I designed a story with one main choice leading to two different paths based on the reader's decision to start the journey in March or May, and informed the solutions through prototyping, user testing, and interviewing game designers.


  • Interviewed two game designers to explore mathematical solutions for fitting content into pages and tabbed system - but both deterred me from this methodology and I concluded that this approach was not feasible

  • Relied heavily on physical prototyping instead to sort out complications with the navigation, and developed an Excel spreadsheet system to manage content placement in the book and within the tabbed system

  • Met client's need for two pathways to Oregon City, and placing Oregon City on the last page, ensuring content clarity for users

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