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“Anna Karenina? Now there was a bitch who just wouldn't die.”
“I've still got the special dice”
Anna Karenina (1878) is a gamebook (a classic genre of text ivented by the Venerable Bede where the reader takes an active part in the story, making important decisions on every page) by Leo Gameboy of Nintendo of America set in Soviet Russia in the late 1700s. It is famous for being the first depiction of Donkey Kong in literature, and for being the first gamebook to accurately simulate the opposing emotions behind a decision to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. For these reasons and many others this text is now considered to be one of the finest examples of early post-mortem literature and is readily studied in some of the world's sillier universities.
"Throw a dice to decide your character" is the immortal first line of the classic. Plot details depend on the choices you make and whether you can be bothered to finish it. Needless to say, if the game is played properly, it is impossible to avoid Anna's suicide in Paddington Station and it is very difficult not to meet Super Mario and Scrooge McDuck in the scene in Pripyat. Famous decisions that you must make are summarised below:
"You are in a red room, facing east. There is no sound. Hobell the dwarf is in the corner. Will you a) go right; b) go left; c) talk to the dwarf."
"Lenin comes at you with a shotgun. You are scared by his screaming and the smell. Roll a dice: on a roll of 1 or 2 you get short through the gut, turn to page 62. On a roll of 3 or 4 he wings you with pellets and you faint. Turn to page 69. On a roll of 5 or 6 you roundhouse kick his stomach into oblivion. Turn to page 62."
"'One of us always tells the truth, the other one always lies,' said the dog-thing. To go through Door 1 turn to page 101. To go through Door 2 close the book and have a nice cup of tea."
"The winters are getting cold. You've almost used all of the sacking and hemp on the fire and Moscow is over 300 miles away. If you are willing to burn your husband, turn to page 2; if you are unwilling to burn your husband turn to page 77; if you're bored of trying to second guess the morals of this story turn to the back cover for clues."
- Anna Karenina is a young Russian girl who is married to a dying horse and must fight her way from St. Petersburg to Monte Carlo, where she will be able to retire in comfort. Her life has been immortalised in such video games as Rachett and Clank and movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany's and Flight of the Navigator.
- Frou Frou is the dying horse. It dies, eventually. (But only if you choose to plant sunflowers rather than pansies on page 45).
- Donkey Kong is a Russian aristocrat, oblivious to the threat that communism, Lenin and Nuclear Power hold. He is happy in his tall, girder tower where he can watch the Russian peasants die in the harsh winters, occassionally throwing barrels of tar at them for fun. He is murdered by either Anna or the swan, depending on the reader's gender.
- Super Mario is a nod to the classic Russian motif of the fat oaf who lives in taverna drinking vodka and hallucinating. His role in the text is minimal and is thought to be included as a nod to the publishing house.
Anna Karenina is generally accepted as being the second best-ever gamebook in history, surpassed only by He-man and the Crystal of Doom. It has been regularly said that the text is the finest example of Russian Realism and that the characterisation of Anna and Donkey Kong, in particular, are sublime. The many plot holes are usually ignored, as are the dead ends and the crippling lack of enjoyment, simply because the writing itself is that good. It is usually placed between 1st and 20th in all 'Best Ever...' polls.
Many outspoken minorities, including the English-, Mandarin- and Spanish-speaking world, have decried the continued publication of what they call 'a stinkin' piece of shit' and many bookstores in every major country have been burned, razed or trashed by angry commuters, high on life, who have taken it upon themselves to guard the morals of their neighbourhood from this book. In some parts of France, The Gambia and Argentina it is almost impossible to find a copy unless you're prepared to degrade yourself in some way.
The reasons for this backlash are, as ever, pathetic and populist, but it seems to be the suicide page that causes the most upset:
'Has life really got that bad? If so, turn to page 33. If you're willing to give it another go, turn to page 40'.
Turn to page 33 and you're presented with a very gory image of the realities of human/locomotive interaction, leading most reasonable humans to be sick and never travel by rail again.
- Karenina means 'cabbage' in many Russian dialects.
- Early editions of the book came with 'special dice' that had no number 1 or 3, just empty spaces. These are now worthless.
- Leo Gameboy now lives in Beverley Hills with his partner and two dogs.