Booking the Game

By Alexandra Geraets in Serious Infotainment
Monday, April 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm

​The past two weeks I've spent a couple of evenings holed up, hiding away from the rest of the world, and investing more and more of my time in a particularly fantastic book entitled The Last Wish. This book, for those in the know, is an English translation of a Polish fantasy novel by Adrzej Sapkowski that gave inspiration and rise to The Witcher franchise of games.

 

If you've never read Sapkowski's The Last Wish, do yourself a favor and go out and find a copy. The seven short stories between the covers give a great introduction to the Witcher's world, and have amped up my interest for the game even more. That I've been hooked on Sapkowski's story for the past two weeks, and ignoring any other book to come my way (and, to be honest, not gaming all that much), speaks highly of it as a narrative.

 

That this book is what inspired two critically acclaimed video games tells me that this could be my new way of introducing people to fantasy literature as a legitimate form of contemporary writing, just as the games might introduce otherwise reluctant readers to the books, thereby opening their eyes to even more fantasy literature that might pique their interest.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the game, even as the book continues to hold my attention. I envy you PC people who have already had the pleasure of experiencing it. As The Witcher 2 lurks in the doorstop shadows of XBoxers like myself, I've been thinking again about what video games owe to fantasy literature, and just what general literature and other types of books have to offer to video games.

 

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We look at games like the Dragon Age franchise and see echoes of the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance series, or we see the current generation of Prince of Persia games and remember The Arabian Nights. The God of War series owes its entire background to classical mythology, with a healthy dose of Heavy Metal magazine. Bastion, a game that I've been savoring for its visuals, musical presentation, and simple narrative, owes as much to the days of telling stories around campfires as it does to Joseph Campbell's theory on the hero's journey.

 

We tend to focus on narrative a lot around here, and, admittedly, there is a lot to look at. Video games are becoming new forces in the very nature of storytelling. As we the players feel more and more engaged by characters and worlds, the more involved we are in the narrative process. As writers improve their capacity for story telling, video games become more and more important to the contemporary delivery of good stories.

 

There are countless series and stand-alone novels out there in the fantasy world of books that would make good games. I admit to judging some science fiction oriented video game stories based on their writing, and what I think they might have borrowed from various science fiction novels. I can say the same for military games on the rare occasion that I play them, and since military history is a personal interest of mine, when game designers and writers know their history, it makes a game far more interesting.


There is a game in development based on A Game of Thrones, the popular George R. R. Martin novels and now television series on HBO. There are several games based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, though the games seem to owe more to Peter Jackson's films, so perhaps they don't count. I know I enjoyed Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, but I'm also certain that had more to do with the battle system than the story or the characters.


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I haven't had an opportunity yet to play the most recent offering, Lord of the Rings: War In the North. My understanding is that it has a bit more to do with the books and the lore of Middle Earth, and less dependence on the movies. That a company looked at Tolkien's world, though, and thought Hey, we could make a game out of this, and decided to push forward with its own structure and creation, that says something. It says that there is potential for building something interactive out of a high fantasy world. A group of developers looked at Tolkien's Middle Earth, and they built something. As I said, I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but the fact that it exists tells me that somewhere, somebody saw the link between literature and games and decided to have a go at it.

 

Now I'm not suggesting that video game developers go out and start trolling their local bookstores for ideas. Don't do that; we've already got Hollywood screwing up enough literature and history without you helping. That said, there are some fantastic stories out there that could do wonders for bringing people into the world of reading, just as games made from those same stories could bring non-gamers into the world of video games.

 

There are plenty of awful video games out there that have more than a passing connection to literature. When I saw a copy of Dante's Inferno with a cover taken from the video game, I was momentarily confused as to what I had missed in the poem. Dante's Inferno might be a prime example of a video game company coming along and taking a piece of literature, tearing out all the bits that made sense, and adding in critters and God of War mechanics. It is a loud and clear example of 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should.'


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Games and literature owe a great deal to one another, especially in the realm of science fiction and contemporary young adult fiction. There is a lot of potential for cross over, and seeing a back and forth exchange of ideas between games and books would, I think, open doors for people from both sides to see into the world of the other. That said, there are some doors that should remain tightly closed, and perhaps there are some ideas that are better left between the covers that spawned them.

 

I wouldn't want to see a video game based on Twilight, but I also wouldn't want to see a video game based on Interview with the Vampire. And now a studio has an idea. My work is done here.

 

 

Serious Infotainment runs on Mondays.

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