You’re sick of your dead-end job at the drive-through chocolate milk stand in Billings, Montana. Why, here you are stuck working for a boss who doesn’t remotely respect you, whilst tonight at the Grand Billings Arena Riled In the Ring, the biggest event on the Buckaroo Championship Wrestling calendar, is unfolding. As your shift ends a chance encounter with Andy the Mammoth, legendary wrestler, inspires you to quit your job and head to the BCW tryouts. You’re determined not to miss next year’s Riled In the Ring – and you plan to be there not as a fan, but as a competitor! Before you get to that dream Riled In the Ring moment, however, you’ve decisions to make and challenges to overcome. Will you be a face or a heel? Will you prevail in the ring and justify a championship shot? And what of the plans of the owner of BCW, the notorious scoundrel Vinny Cobbler?
Chuck Tingle’s Select Your Own Timeline series of Choose Your Own Adventure-styled gamebooks continues with Decisions To Wrestle With. This is an apt choice of subject matter; one of the things which made Choose Your Own Adventure stand out back when I was younger was the way they touched on a broader range of concepts than a lot of gamebook series, and “You’re a (insert sport here) star” was one of the concepts they sometimes ran with. Chuck is likely also writing about what he knows here; he’s eased off on it lately, but there was a time a while back when he worked a pretty shrewd wrestling .gif game on his social media accounts, and the book suggests a level of knowledge of the field a bit deeper than “I used to be a casual fan but drifted away”.
For example, there’s a Tingleverse equivalent of backyard wrestling leagues and the indie wrestling component of the Gathering of the Juggalos here, and I don’t think someone with only a cursory knowledge of wrestling would pick up on that. If Chuck’s not a fan himself, he’s certainly bothered to do his research, which suggests a healthy level of respect for the field. Some of the Tinglefications of real wrestling figures he works in include some pretty deep cuts as far as the jokes go; for instance, Vinny Cobbler, the Tingleverse version of Vince McMahon, is a T-Rex, and of course Vince’s office in WWE Headquarters famously has a huge T-Rex skull decorating one of its walls.
Here’s where the book ends up surprisingly timely. Buckaroos versed in Chuck’s deep lore will spot the “Cobbler” surname and immediately assume that Vinny Cobbler is a nefarious devilman on a par with Ted Cobbler, Chuck’s nemesis; they’d be correct. Vinny is depicted as a toxic boss who does not have the well-being of his employees in mind, and handled in such a way that I can only assume Chuck’s been keeping an eye on the scuttlebutt about Vince’s management style over the years.
The book was released in late May, after Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out of the company (vacating the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship) and Vince responded in a catastrophically unprofessional way, using the commentary team as his mouthpiece to trash them as they left, and more recently a swathe of controversies has hit WWE, with Vince’s history of large hush money payments to cover up both consensual affairs (albeit with awkward power dynamics) and complaints of sexual harassment, assault, and rape being exposed by the Wall Street Journal.
Now the SEC and federal prosecutors have started looking into the matter and WWE have had to adjust their earnings reports – for although Vince paid the hush money out of his private funds, because the payments were in part to protect the company’s reputation they really should have been reflected on WWE’s accounts. Though Vince is a wealthy and politically well-connected man, there’s one thing the oligarchy in America doesn’t forgive, and that’s messing with their investments – and as such, once things got to that stage Vince was cast out of WWE altogether. Triple H is now in charge of Creative and talent relations, and Stephanie McMahon is now co-CEO with Nick Khan; though Trips and Stephanie are McMahon family members, the scuttlebutt has always been that Triple H has been genuinely nicer to work for and had better relationships with the talent than Vince, and Nick Khan’s co-CEO role means that even if Stephanie wanted to act as a proxy for her dad, she wouldn’t be able to do so unchallenged. All the credible analysis from those in the know suggests that Vince is genuinely gone.
At the time Chuck published this, the idea of Vince being forced out of WWE was unthinkable; the accepted wisdom was that he’d leave his posts as Chairman, CEO and head of Creative only when dead. Now he’s gone. Can we really question the power of proving love real after this?
As far as the gameplay here goes, it’s Select Your Own Timeline: there’s no game mechanics beyond making decisions when you are told to, there’s the usual Tingleverse running jokes and recurring themes, and there’s a big slice of breaking the fourth wall. Interestingly, Tingle writes the book from what you might call a semi-kayfabe perspective: the matches are presented as though the results were not predetermined, but there is an acknowledgement that people’s gimmicks are fictional personas, and that heels are only really meant to be fun-evil, not actually malicious or harmful. That’s exactly the sort of combination of pulling back the curtain and playing along with the story which Chuck has specialised in all these years – one of the things about Tingle is that when you look behind the curtain, the guy back there seems to actually be more or less the same person as the projection on the other side of the curtain depicts, which is what makes him such a treasure.