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Book Review: Andy P. Smith's "Can You Survive 2020: An Interactive Adventure"

Book Review: Andy P. Smith's "Can You Survive 2020: An Interactive Adventure"

“Can You Survive 2020: An Interactive Adventure” is a recently published interactive fiction book from Andy P. Smith, takes readers along on an adventure through 2020, allowing them to make their own decisions, choose their own fates, and determine their survival. 

“Can You Survive 2020″: An Interactive Fiction Book 

The book, written in the second person and styled after the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the 1980s and 90s, is a project Smith took on after being laid off in April due to the pandemic. He said that while he was initially hesitant, he recognized his privilege in taking time off and decided to jump in.

“It took me a month to commit to the idea of doing this. I, quite frankly, was scared to commit to doing it…It took about two months to do all the writing and then it took about another month to edit, format, design, and ultimately publish,” said Smith.

 The book opens with you as a young writer and working bartender living in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You’re from Portland, Oregon originally. You moved to New York City 10 years earlier for college. 

It’s March. COVID-19 is starting to come to the U.S., and New York City is a new epicenter of the virus, and you have been laid off from your bartending job.

The first choice you have to make is whether you’ll stay in New York, which feels like home, or go to Portland to stay with your parents, where you’ll be able to get out of your small Brooklyn apartment and enjoy the company of others. 

Traveling to Portland gets you family time, while staying in New York, you entertain yourself with the early-quarantine activities that now feel oddly nostalgic: Zooming with friends, watching movies, working out at home, baking, trying a new hobby.

It only gets harder from there, and the scenarios go from realistic (participating in the Black Lives Matter movement) to outlandish (aliens arriving on earth, and you becoming one with them).

Smith had to employ a specific strategy to ensure he could keep all of these scenarios straight. 

“I had drawn the map of the outline of the whole thing first, so I knew where things were going, and I knew many of the endings already. It was a matter of waking up in the morning and picking up where I left off, and then going back to previous junctures and filling in those paths and those endings,” Smith said.

The endings are varied, with your rate of survival being roughly 50/50. On the first reading, it’s tempting to make the choices that feel easy—staying in, leaving early, passing on invitations—because it seems like those will lead you to survival. On the contrary, the easy choices often lead you to death.

Smith consciously designed the book that way as a nod to the Choose Your Own Adventure books that he read as a kid and revisited during quarantine, the basis for “Can You Survive 2020.”

“For the most part, you, as the reader [in Choose Your Own Adventure books] are rewarded for your bravery, you are not rewarded for lack of bravery, the easy road leads to an easy death. That was something that I tried to inject throughout the book,” Smith said.

As a whole, “Can You Survive 2020” succeeds in delivering the message that our actions can have larger implications. Some of those implications are unrealistically fantastical, but others are soberingly serious.

For instance, in the first decision, you choose between going to Portland and staying in New York. If you go to Portland, you have to decide whether to quarantine in your neighbor’s RV and or go right into the house with your family.

In the moment, making the choice to quarantine might not seem necessary, but if you don’t make that choice and enter into that the other scenario, your parents die from COVID-19.

For instance, in the first decision, you choose between going to Portland and staying in New York. If you go to Portland, you have to decide whether to quarantine in your neighbor’s RV and go right into the house with your family. 

In the moment, making the choice to quarantine might not seem necessary, but if you don’t make that choice and enter into that scenario, your parents die from COVID-19.

For the most part, though, the book is fun; a hypothetical adventure, with there being no real stakes in whether or not you survive. Many of the endings are unrealistic, but sometimes a little fantasy is exactly what we need, especially during 2020.