A Novel Idea
It’s pretty tough to try to think up too many videogames successfully adapted from books. Despite the thousands and thousands of fantastic novels, short stories and classic poems, the best that players have been able to expect so far are titles that miss the point of their source material completely (like Dante’s Inferno) or great, but obscure adaptations like The Witcher series (outside of Eastern Europe, not many of us probably knew that the games were based on books at all).
This is too bad because so many excellent stories can be translated to the medium, creating not only great games, but a good way to draw players into reading books that they may otherwise have missed out on.
So, an exercise. A handful of books that would make for fantastic videogames.
The Iliad, by Homer
Homer’s epic poem seems tailored to the audio-visual bombast of a pseudo-historical series like God of War. Full of tense battles, sneaky troop manoeuvrings, climatic duels, a cast of larger than life characters and intervening gods, The Iliad provides all the right ingredients for a fantastic videogame. An Iliad videogame with Trojan battlefields inspired by the scale of Dynasty Warriors and the intricate combat systems of Dark Souls — maybe with light strategic elements thrown in — would make a great, interactive take on the classic. It even comes with a built-in sequel, The Odyssey, something that would definitely make franchise hungry publishers happy.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
This one is another easy adaptation. Think about it: you take the role of Ishmael, agree to help crew the Pequod and hunt down the eponymous white whale. Deviate from the text a little to translate it into a role-playing game where the end goal — the final boss — is the defeat of Moby Dick. Ishmael gains party members by recruiting them from port towns, gains experience and money by hunting smaller whales and selling their oil to merchants and assembles a party made up of characters like Queequeg, Starbuck, Fedallah and, of course, Ahab himself. Upgradable harpoons, ships and the ability to explore the Pequod, talking to the cast of characters making up her crew would all provide plenty of opportunity to flesh out the obsessive minutiae of Melville’s masterwork without forcing the plot to drag for those uninterested in the narrative’s fine details.
Bonus points for the developer’s cool enough to buy the rights to use Mastodon’s Moby Dick inspired concept album, Leviathan, as the battle music.
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
There’s certainly no shortage of videogames using the backdrop of real, historic combat as their settings, but there is a definite lack of games where war is portrayed with the gravity it deserves. Hemingway’s seminal Spanish Civil War novel presents the kind of “good guys vs. bad guys” viewpoint that most war games centre on, but underscores its portrayal with a real sense of regret for the waste of life that comes with any type of warfare, regardless of its justification. A first or third person shooter that combines the kind of action players expect from these games with a deeper narrative that actually makes violence have meaning would be fantastic.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
Murakami’s blend of stark realism and otherworldly plot elements would work well as an adventure game. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’s protagonist’s “quest” to find his missing wife and runaway cat is riddled with unforgettable characters, mysterious settings and plenty of narrative propulsion. Adapting it to a game would, of course, require losing some of what makes the original text so great, but the idea of giving players the ability to step into Toru Okada’s tennis shoes and explore the mysteries of his own mind and the surrealist version of Tokyo would make for an incredible experience. The same gameplay model could be applied to many of Murakami’s other books or offer other opportunities for adaptation (like, say, Salman Rushdie’s similarly striking magical realist works).
Reid McCarter is a writer, editor and musician living and working in Toronto. He has written for sites and magazines including Kill Screen, The Escapist and C&G Magazine. He founded, writes and edits the videogame blog digitallovechild.com and is Twitter-ready @reidmccarter.