No, really, they did.
I'm sure of it, and the reason I say that is because I watch discussions of older games like early D&D, arguments about Rulings, Not Rules,and long discussions about the horribleness of rulesets that at their core require players of characters to appeal to the sensibilities and biases of the GM to wheedle the enactment of mechanics, and frankly end up wondering what all of the fuss is about.
It becomes clear to me reading those sorts of threads that other, perhaps smarter, people find all of those sorts of things torturous and incomprehensible and I have been left somewhat baffled why I wasn't having this same reaction.
Clearly, some sort of Dain Bramage had occured in my distant past that made that sort of awful design and playstyle seem terribly normal to me, and so I went on a quest down memory lane to figure out the source of this trauma.
Choose Your Own Adventure Books were at the bottom of that pit.
I mostly blame my bramage not so much on those innocent tomes, but on the actions of my 4th grade teacher and my good pal, Marc.
Awful Vikinghat-GM-in-the-making that he was, my 4th grade teacher would read CYOA books aloud in class and let us collectively decide which entry to go to next when a decision was called for in the text. I suspect he may have read a few of those ahead of time, because I recall a couple of occasions when he'd hear are votes and ask us " Do You really want to do that?".
Clearly, I was being dain bramaged even then. I loved those books and read a bunch on my own.
The other villain in this piece is my good pal, Marc, who would introduce me to D&D ( and RPGs more generally) by catching me after one of those reading sessions and telling me that D&D was like a CYOA book only OMGBETTERER!!11! and would I like to play one?
Fool that I was, I tried out RPGs with this mindset, and truly the imprinting was nearly complete, the worm of dain bramage already setting in.
After one short session, I decided Marc was right: These things were an improved CYOA experience! You could play with your pals, and they all were different characters! You didn't all just collectively choose what one character did, each person had a character! How cool was that?! You wren't limited to a choice or two or even dialog based in a book. You could try whatever you came up with to get through the story and could go in all sorts of directions, not just one or two.
And yes, you could try to wheedle a bit and play on the GM's sympathies, not just try to guess what the options an author had come up with meant. And hit points! Lovely, lovely hit points! Maybe you did slide down that hillside, but you didn't necessarily automatically die straight out. You might get to make a roll of the dice and survive the thing!
I was hooked after one session. I immediately went home and made my own rules and tried GMing a week later. It wasn't perfect, designwise or technique wise, but I got the gist of the thing.
You're the GM. Make up a situation and an area. Your pals are the characters, they wander around and interact with it. If you don't already have a mechanic for something, either just decide what happens ( what the author of those CYOA books would do) or make up some kind of die throw mechanic on the spot, however you felt like and hope for the best.
Mostly, it worked. Where it didn't, I blame lack of experience. That stuff is always hard won in any craft.
Later on, I got proper RPGs, made by other people and filled with mechanics. Terribly useful stuff premade mechanics. You have a tool right handy if you happen not to feel like maing up your own. Sometimes they even gave some neat concepts I hadn't thought of myself. Entirely optional though outside of those very core mechanics (and sometimes even those core mechanics were optional).
And the whole thing, player end or GM end, felt pretty natural. Really, I wasn't doing all that much more than what my teacher had been doing when he read those CYOA books aloud to us and we'd made decisions.
Even today, I still approach classic design RPG GMing this way.
I didn't come from a wargaming background. The idea of D&D as a single figure wargame with logistics challenge components is an interesting if somewhat foreign idea. Truly, I have only limited respect for mechanics, treating them as tools to be used or not used as I see fit and taking that stand without regrets.
After all, it wasn't like I'd never played a CYOA book successfully, even without those classic RPG style mechanics.
So what it comes down to is this: Perhaps other people, mystified about how those cobbled together toolkits with their GM decision making (based on their own biases and sympathies) are even vaguely functional in practice, well, perhaps they ought to expose themselves to a bit of dain bramage inducing play of the type I experienced.
I suspect the whole thing might become a bit clearer.
Begorrah!* It might even, with clear insight into the mindset I've been discussing, suggest directions for design and layout.
(* I have no idea what begorrah means, but irishmen in old movies exclaim it in surprise, and being so close to St Patrick's Day, i just felt like sneaking it in there somewhere)