Gaming has reached unthinkable heights as the entertainment medium grows in popularity. Entire tournaments are held, bringing together people from all over the world to compete for huge cash prizes. Internet stars are born just by filming themselves playing video games and reacting to what happens. The newest technological advances are tied to video gaming in a way like never before. We can collect figurines in real life that allow us to control the character they represent. We can dive into the video game worlds ourselves with the help of a virtual reality headset. We can even smell our games with the Nosulus Rift!
Okay, that last one sees us heading towards dystopia, but with all of the hype surrounding this new era of hyper technological gaming, maybe developers can start exploring more low-tech options to start standing out.
Literature is a mostly unexplored frontier. Thus far, the only real way we get big, well publicized video games based on a book is if the book has already been adapted for the big or small screen. For example, Shadow of Mordor, every Harry Potter game, and Telltale’s Game of Thrones. In these cases, the books are already incredibly popular, either because there are other forms of media that depict the content, or (such as with Harry Potter) the book series is an international phenomenon. A video game based on a book like this is unlikely to fail, as there is so little risk involved. Developers can see Game of Thrones continue season after season, drawing in an ever swelling audiences.
At the moment, there are only a handful of examples of video games based entirely on a book, the most notable of which are Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 and Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series. While The Witcher certainly wasn’t known by most before the release of the game in 2007, there is actually a film and television series based on the original Polish novels. The only well known video game of this generation based purely on a book is Metro 2033. There is some basis to the argument that the above statement isn’t true. While Metro 2033 was nearly completely faithful to the source material, there are some other video games that draw heavily from certain literary sources. The best examples of this are Far Cry 2 and Spec Ops: The Line, which both draw upon Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a story about seeking a man in a hostile country, while learning about the absurdity of the notions of right and wrong.
Metro 2033 was, on the whole, well received as a game. Even so, it is incredibly underrated, and will always be one of my favorite games of all time. In this title, I felt something vastly different to anything I had ever played before. It took me a while to define a term that satisfactorily expresses that feeling, but the best I could come up with was ‘saturated immersion’. The vast expanses of the subterranean rail network are so incredibly atmospheric. I am not one to scare easy, but Metro 2033 made me glad I played at night, when no one else could see me quivering like a cobweb in a drafty train carriage. The book is also very thematic; the plot wrestles with the notions of politics, post-apocalyptic society, and post-humanism. This makes the story incredibly dark, in both mood and environment, and the game recreates this perfectly.
So why, then, aren’t more developers utilizing literary content for new video games? To me, it makes perfect sense to start exploring the boundless wealth of material contained within books. Entire storylines are already mapped out. There are fully-fleshed characters waiting to come to life. Quintillions of non-procedurally generated worlds await exploration. I am in no way suggesting that we bring Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice to life, which, if you haven’t read it, is basically a less violent Yandere Simulator. There have just been too many occasions where I’ve been reading a book, and stopped to think, “this would make a great video game.” Even something like Moby Dick would be an excellent adaptation. Think Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, a game renowned for it’s sailing mechanics. You gain experience by completing “hunts” for other whales. Whale oil is the currency, and you can upgrade your ship with it. The final boss is Moby Dick itself. I can taste the sea salt on their air just thinking about it.
The fantasy genre in itself contains thousands of possible conversions. There is a trilogy named The Chronicles of the Jerusalem Man, which is basically Red Dead Redemption, but with magic. You follow the story of a gun-slinging wanderer through a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of the fabled city of Jerusalem, helping settlements besieged by bandits along the way. Maybe there’s a bit of Fallout 4 in there as well. I have recently finished The Malazan Book of the Fallen, a series of 10 books so huge in scope that it would give Final Fantasy‘s numerous titles a run for their money. The parallels between the two series’ are many; both feature unique systems of magic, epic battles and stunning world-shattering catastrophes. Funnily enough, The Malazan Book of the Fallen was inspired by a world the author developed while playing a Dungeons and Dragons style tabletop game. So that would make it a game based on a book based on a game. Trippy.
Maybe it’s simply that reading is seen as the “uncool” type of nerdy, whereas gaming in your underwear, guzzling down your fourth energy drink at 3am is now where the fun is at. We have new major tech sprouting up year on year, and in this increasingly technological age, people are seeing the attraction of stripping down and becoming nocturnal. You cannot really change books. To some people, they will always only be words on a page. Reading is highly passive; you sit, calm, and absorb the story. Perhaps with the rise of mega-literature like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and…dare I say, Twilight (I feel dirty), the negative aspects associated with reading will dissipate, and developers will feel more comfortable in transforming more books into games.
Let me know what you think of this issue in the comments below.