Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is how to impose consequences for failure in gamebooks. The traditional method is with death, but how much fun dying is for the player is questionable.
To be sure, a well-written, colorful death scene, especially in the right tone of book, can be a lot of fun. Some of the most memorable moments of those old fighting fantasy books are some of the crazy death scenes you can get yourself into.
But from a game flow perspective, it just ends the game for the player. This jars them from the game experience, possibly causing them to stop. It's not as fun to fail as to succeed. And it may force them to re-do material they have already gone through, which is not fun, and depending on how demanding that material is, may be tedious enough to drive the player to set the book aside rather than try again.
On the other hand, though success is more fun than failure, success loses that fun factor if failure isn't very likely. If success is spoon-fed to you, it loses it's significance.
So, we're looking at a few factors here:
Challenge Factor: This is a measure of how difficult real success is to achieve. Generally, this is like salt: more of it is better, until you have too much.
but this must be balanced against...
Tedium Factor: Generally, given that this is not real death we are talking about, death in a game means going back and doing it again. For highly content-based games, forcing the player to re-do material they've already done isn't fun the second, or third, or fifth, or tenth time around. Even for more gameplay oriented games, repeating material isn't usually as fun unless it is part of honing the skill of the game.
The only time I see repetition being fun is when the death was a learning experience, and now you get to go back and try again, with more knowledge and skill. When repetition means trying again at something you failed at the first time, learning and trying again until you get it right, it's fun. But if you have to repeat stuff that's not related to why you died, just to get back to the challenge that actually challenges you, that's not as fun.
So the question becomes: In gamebooks, what cost do you impose on the player for failure? Death is just one option for that cost, and effectively what it amounts to is, "go back and try again, you loser." There are two costs in death: one is the cost to status and self-prestige. It's a message to the player, "you didn't make it, try again." The other is a cost to time, in that they are then asked to replay a certain portion of the game. On the other hand, that cost is only a cost if the repetition is unrewarding. Theoretically, getting to try again could be a good thing if it throws you right back into the meaningful, fun part of the gameplay. In that case, the cost of death is only the status cost, the "you failed" message. But while that's not awesome in and of itself, it can heighten the full gameplay experience, if the player feels like they could succeed. In that case, he or she is driven to try again, and success is all the sweeter when it's achieved.
The concept of death in video games perhaps made more sense when these were arcade games, and the cost of failure was a very real one: another $0.25 to keep playing. But even then, the only lure to keep playing is the feeling that you could have gotten it right, with another try maybe you can achieve mastery.
So, what I'm coming to is that ideally, player death in a video game should take them back right to the point where they need to do something different. This presents it's own problems, though, in that perhaps the thing you would need to change is a puzzle, and finding it is part of the challenge.
Let me rephrase: Ideally, player death in a game should reset them to the beginning of the challenge which they failed.
As a followup tenet from that, achieving success with repetition should be a matter of honing player skill, not a matter of luck. There is no satisfaction to hitting a button again and again till it comes up with the "you may proceed" screen. There IS satisfaction in improving personal skill and achieving mastery of a game mechanic.
Hmm... this post has been sort of a random, disorganized rant, and I wound up talking more about how to use death effectively rather than alternatives to death, but I think there's enough here to go ahead and post it. Maybe I'll do a followup on this topic later.