The Literary Classics That Could Make Great Video Games

Movies and television seem quite content in grabbing stories and inspiration from other forms of entertainment: books, comics, and of course, video games. What they also seem to enjoy doing is pushing their titles into other mediums, and this isn’t always a particularly good thing. Looking at the turbulent relationship of video games-movies, there have been some particularly low lows – with the likes of the alienating E.T on the Atari – and at rare times surprising highs, such as the terrifying Alien: Isolation.

Perhaps the reason it’s rare is due to one form of entertainment trying to take advantage of the other, and trying to cash in on an uninformed audience high from the product’s source. Within this lazy rush to create the next Superman 64, fantastic worlds in other entertainment mediums can become completely and utterly ignored. One source in particular that has its stories blatantly neglected in the medium of video games is literature, and I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise: one of the oldest forms of enjoyment meeting one of the youngest.

However, what is surprising is that there are still some connections, and a few modern games which have roots in books: The Witcher and Metro 2033 both claim this status. Going further back, before I had first picked up my Sega Mega Drive controller, there are games that are more blatant with their ties to literature, and some even widely known among audiences today. In particular, I’ll mention Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Discworld, Dune, and Fahrenheit 451, for these three games received a great reception from the industry and could be said to highlight the past relationship of games and books; both finding some beginnings in text-heavy adventures. In the present day it’s rare for games to rely so much on text, with only rarities, such as the wonderful Depression Quest, doing so.

Perhaps it was only when video games had limited technology and had to resort to text that there was a more closely knit relationship. Now it’s more likely that books must first transfer to the movie screen before they have any hope to being made into video games. However, there are still broad selections of unexplored worlds for developers to venture into. So with that said, today I’m going to share some of the literary classics that I personally believe could do with more attention, and will also discuss what kind of game they could be made into.

The Wheel of Time series – Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson

As obvious as it seems, The Wheel of Time, a series which spans over fifteen books, is in dire need of some more immersive releases outside of its book form. Unfortunately, all we have thus far in video games is a decent 1999 FPS title, which got lost among the Unreals and Quakes of its era. The game received a very much positive reception, with IGN scoring it 7.3 and Gamespot giving it 8.3/10 (and notably rating it #10 on its chart of most underrated games of all time). Unfortunately, looking at the title, it clearly underutilized a franchise which has a rich and deep world.

There are a few ways I’d love to see the game made, and the most apparent is in the style of The Elder Scrolls series. The ES style could mould itself so easily to any fantasy world, and I can think of several scenarios in which it would work for The Wheel of Time. Beginning with a flashback, your nameless character has glimpses of their past life, and gets to wander, engage, and learn about their surroundings. Then upon facing their end they swiftly wake up in a completely different body thinking what they experienced was a dream. From there on, they wander the world exploring broad lands such as the Aiel Waste, play the Game of Houses in Cairhean, trade blows with a band of Trollocs, catch a glimpse of The Dragon Reborn, and perhaps discover that they can access the perilous true source.

Of course, this is just one genre, and one story with which a game adaptation could go with. An RTS could also work quite well, but if a movie came out before the game it’s more likely that a lazy hack-and-slash title would be created. It’s not difficult to imagine the numerous ways the franchise could go, and after the over-saturation of Lord of the Rings games it would be nice to see another literary fantasy franchise getting some attention.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

I struggled to pick a single novel here as 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, all stand out as fantastic dystopian/utopian novels. However, Fahrenheit is perhaps the most beautifully written, and seems to be the easiest out of the above to adapt into a video game. This can be evidenced in the past attempt to translate the book to the gaming world, in the computer strategy game of the same name that was released on the Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, PC (DOS), Macintosh, MSX and Tandy computers. Unlike the recent Dante’s Inferno, which went off on a tangent from its source material, Fahrenheit 451 actually served as a direct sequel to the book, and can be taken as semi-canonical due to the fact that Bradbury himself actually contributed to the title.

It was also a pretty decent game, and I feel it’s now well beyond time that Guy Montag is revisited, and that we are able explore more of the world filled with mechanical hounds, where firemen don’t put out fires and instead burn your books. A world where knowledge truly is deadly, people are kept down by not being permitted to learn, and everyone lives in constant fear of the authorities.

One way to construct the world would be to start afresh as a character from youth (something like Fallout), and allow you to see how corrupt the world is by having to grow up in it. The game could be open world or more narrow (as this would suit the environment), and could even use a character from the novel such as Clarisse or Guy Montag. It could also easily be made into an FPS, similar to Bioshock where the story takes centre stage, as opposed to flashy war FPS’s like Call of Duty (which could also be made: Firemen chasing you on a boat with a giant flamethrower mounted to its deck).

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

The Road tells the bleak story of a man and child wandering across a post-apocalyptic world where food is a rarity and a can of coke is a piece of treasure. Where owning a gun – even a single bullet – is not for attacking, but for protection. In comparison to the worlds of Fallout and Lone Survivor, McCarthy’s world is empty. Dust and ash roll across the land with vague remembrances of cities in sight. There are no colourful enemies such as super mutants here, and we learn within this story that humans can be more inhumane than anything else, which portrays an atmosphere of disturbing realism.

Currently, the story has been adapted quite well into a movie but no thoughts about a game seem to have been discussed. For an adaptation, it would be nice to have a wide world, and within this world there would be a realisation that no matter what way you head it’s likely you’ll almost certainly face death – likely due to starvation or being killed by one of the other remaining survivors. Weapons would be scarce and improvised, without any sort of gun. The focus would be purely on survival, on stealth, and on resourcefulness. Similar to The Last of Us, The Road is built on a strong bond between a youth and an elder, with the youth needing to adapt to an unfair world, and I think to neglect this bond in a video game adaptation would be a great disservice to McCarthy’s piece.

Looking through the titles I’ve suggested thus far, I feel it’s unlikely that a gaming equivalent for any of them will be produced. Also, a part of me understands why I’m not upset over this fact. Bringing it back to the book-movie relationship, we could perhaps say that these are working in tandem. It seems for a large part, movies and television are pillaging the broad world of literature for their own benefit. Sure, it can be argued that many franchises are used well – with the likes of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones reaching a wide audience – however, what I’ve continuously noticed is that there are a large amount of movies based on books. In fact, it seems at times that the movie industry needs literature in order to keep churning out a steady stream of releases.

In comparison to this, video games seem to be standing independently, many with story and cinematic moments that are often equal or superior to their peers. They don’t need another source upon which to create ground-breaking work.

But just in case, here are some further books that could make for some great games: Discworld – Terry Pratchett; John Dies at the End – David Wong; 1984 – George Orwell; American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis; Beowulf; The Long Road – G. Michael Hopf; Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve; The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle.

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