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Can Books and Video Games Coexist?

Roger Ebert famously said “Video games can never be art.” Man, was he wrong. He was so, so, so wrong.

Let me explain my viewpoint. I own both an XBox and a Wii. And, while on vacation, I developed an unhealthy addiction to Angry Birds.

My love for video games started around the time I was 9 or 10, when the first Nintendo came out. I spent hours and hours and hours playing Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. and Metroid. As I’ve got older, got married, and had a kid, my video game playing has waned. I’m not one of those guys you’ll read about in the news who got divorced because of his addiction to World of Warcraft. That’s just insane.

When I started this book project, I basically decided to temporarily give up video games. I simply didn’t have time to work, read, write the blog, play with my son, spend time with my wife…and play an hour long game of Madden. That’s just not going to work. Something had to give. So for nearly 16 months, I didn’t touch a video game controller.

For Christmas, my wife bought me the newest Elder Scrolls game–a masterpiece on the XBox 360. And, amazingly, I’ve somehow managed to find a little time here and there to play it, while keeping up with the blog and the reading and the family time.

The point of this amazingly long lead-in is that Elder Scrolls reminded me that books can coexist with video games. Not only that, classic video games can be very similar to classic books. Both ARE art, Roger Ebert. Some games are so brilliantly designed and their stories are so detailed and involved, they are just as effective, if not more effective, than books in telling a story.

Are some games a waste of time? Yep. But I think it’s close-minded to say that all video games are worthless. And I think those of us who are literary-minded can find a lot of redeeming qualities in certain video games.

When I saw that Lev Grossman, one of the two guys who actually created the Time list, was a gamer, I knew I was in pretty good company as a book lover and part-time gamer.

Other than the Elder Scrolls games I’ve already mentioned, here are some other games I think book lovers would appreciate.

The Fallout Series: Post apocalyptic. Very Cormac McCarthy-esque.  If Blood Meridian was set in a post-Nuclear War setting, it might look like Fallout.

Alan Wake:  Well this game only makes sense. It has the feeling of  Stephen King novel. The story follows a struggling writer who goes on a weekend retreat to a cabin in the woods. After his wife mysteriously disappears, he’s off to find her. One of the most unique games I’ve ever played.

The Mass Effect trilogy: Mass Effect is classic sci-fi. I’m not a big science fiction guy, but I enjoyed playing the first two games in this series (haven’t played the third one). Maybe there’s a hint of Neuromancer in here.

Myst: Do you remember this game from the 90s? It was a beautiful, first-person, puzzle solver. The environments were unbelievably detailed for the time period. If you’re a reader who loves to think and solve problems, you would’ve loved this game. I’m sure it’s still out there in some form for download.

Halo Trilogy: The crazy over-the-top action made me want to stray away from suggesting this game as one for book lovers, but Halo actually has quite a developed story. I’ve only played the first two games, but you can tell this game’s writers spend a massive amount of time on the story.

So this post might totally bomb. I’m not sure how many of you out there are big video game people.

But, if you’re like me, and enjoy both a good book and a good game, then speak up!

What are some other games that book lovers might enjoy? Or, flip the question, what are some books that would make for great video games?

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. I would absolutely agree. I’ve long thought the plot development and the timing of the revelations in “Halo” earned it a right to be considered a serious work of fiction.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  2. If you hadn’t mentioned it, I would have: The Mass Effect games are a great bit of story telling, and the third game is a wonderful conclusion. In fact, anything by BioWare is bound to have a great story.

    And as long as I’ve been a gamer, I’ve been a reader too. I’ve never really felt a conflict between the two either. In both cases, I’m looking for a good story, and there are plenty of examples in both areas.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  3. bba #

    Just seeing the word Zelda makes my eye sight bleary and my bones ache of sleep deprivation. The Water Tower is the greatest level of any game, ever.

    And completing a TD pass into triple coverage after your play is called is just not fair.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  4. willhoekenga #

    I grew up during the ’90s and LOVED Myst! And you’re right about it having a great story…because it was actually adapted into a three-book series. One of my friends in 6th grade challenged me to read them because they were super thick to us at the time. I took him up on it. Looks like the series is still available:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Myst-Reader-Rand-Miller/dp/1401307817/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335966235&sr=1-1

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  5. I don’t play video games myself. I’ve tried them, but have found nothing that really grabs my interest, and I feel I’m wasting time I could be spent doing something else. Like reading. I also find that video games are more attractive when one is doing something one doesn’t really want to do–like working. Before I retired, I would often spend my lunch hour working an on-line crossword or jigsaw puzzle. Since retiring, though, I found I have no time for video games, though I do find the artwork in them amazing.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  6. Siuon #

    I love the Metal Gear Solid series though the games have notoriously long cut scenes and chessy one-liners.

    I believe games have different ways of story telling from novels. Dark Souls, for instance, requires the players to piece the stories themselves.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
    • I had a love/hate relationship with MGS. Totally agree about the cheesy one liners. I’m not sure how well it would work as a book. Splinter Cell might work better.

      Like

      May 2, 2012
  7. Good to see you didn’t fall down the Skyrim hole as badly as I did. I’ve talked about video games a lot on my page, and I think it’s interesting you linked Blood Meridian to Fallout (one of my favorite games). The thing I despised about Meridian was the mechanical style it described the everyday misery of life in the West of the time. To me it felt like the rote description of violent events from a video game, delivered without any reason for the reader to care (much less any quotation marks).

    As for book to games, I’d probably be the only person in the world to care, but a Worlds of Thomas Pynchon Massively Multiplayer Online Game would be awesome. Just make up a weird name, join a secret organization and you’re off to the races!!

    Like

    May 2, 2012
    • I thought Fallout had that violent, apocalyptic feel of Blood Meridian. The “every man for himself” mentality.

      After playing Skyrim for 3 1/2 months, I’ve recently taken a break. That’s a difficult game to play for only 30 minutes a night.

      Like

      May 2, 2012
  8. Hello, my name is Heather, and I’m a Final Fantasy addict.

    For me, video games couldn’t coexist with anything: not reading, not sleeping, not showering, not eating. So I quit them cold turkey about 10 years ago. I decided I’d rather get back to books and cleanliness. Haha! Final Fantasy still calls my name and visits me in my dreams now and then, but I feel so much better without it.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
    • Fortunately, I avoided the Final Fantasy addiction. Glad you are “sober” these days, though!

      Like

      May 2, 2012
  9. I tend to keep them apart – FPS on the xbox and books everywhere else. Battlefield is the current focus with multiplayer clicked far more than mission. I do not dissagree with any comment here, but for me a book for a story, every time. The only time I found the book being delightfully affected, or maybe even effected by a game was the first round of books by Weis and Hickman. Afraid I have no gra for most other types of games. Or maybe its the time I lack. Perhaps I will give them a go.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  10. Oh, it definitely does replicate the feel of living in a wasteland, it just does so without the humor and emotional response Fallout provokes. Blood Meridian read to me as what someone who doesn’t play video games but thinks they’re “bad” thinks they’re like. Like that lawyer who keeps going after GTA.

    Yeah, Skyrim doesn’t really lend itself to casual gaming. I extricated myself from it, but not before becoming head of every guild, and having a house in every city…

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  11. Sam Philliber #

    This spoke to me in ways only you might understand. Halo was a great series. Anther great series is Assassins Creed. It tells a riveting yet mysterious story over 600 year period.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  12. Two game series which I really enjoy that you didn’t mention are the ‘Batman: Arkham …’ series and the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ series.

    The former is almost like a comic book coming to life, with a cleverly written story with vivid detail (both visually and in the story) found in every nook and cranny.

    The latter (as long as you stick to the main games in the trilogy) is sci-fi married with history, with a plot so filled with mystery and excitement that I consider it to be one of the greatest series I’ve ever played. The setting especially stands out, each game being set in the most interesting places in their respective time period.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  13. Moment Matters #

    I consider video games as art. There’s extensive drawing, artwork, animation, you name it. It’s crafted with story (a great story for some) and immersible experience. Though it’s not for everybody.

    Video games will only be waste of time if you’ve had too much of it – just like any other activities. They are enjoyable, and when I enjoy my time, I won’t call it a waste.

    Like

    May 2, 2012
  14. I must say that after reading through this post that you have touched on an area where many ideas and creative minds have gone to roost. I may be repeating some of the comment thoughts of others, but as a gamer myself, I have found that video games are a form of entertainment that enhances fictional writing. I don’t see it stopping and someday, it could be the avenue for a majority of fictional writers to travel. That is not to say that books will become obsolete, but the electronic format is becoming a norm. Video games, movies, and books can easily swirl together to help entertain all. I only hope that they start to draw some interest back to some of the older forms of the arts.

    Like

    May 4, 2012
  15. Hmmm. I can agree that the worlds are well-created but, admittedly from a position of ignorance, have to wonder whether there can be any real character development?
    I was interested to see Mass Effect in your list as my teenage son is very keen on this game. The other day he was temporarily banned from screens for some misdemeanour or other and mopily informed me there was nothing to do. I gave him my copy of MASH (the book) and he spent the next couple of hours guffawing in his room. Next day he read it all over again and didn’t even ask to go on the computer. Of course, that didn’t last but I was relieved to find the bookworm he used to be still exists somewhere inside the teenage computer-fanatic he is now.

    Like

    May 5, 2012
  16. Simone #

    I don’t agree with the starting point: “Videogames are ( or can be ) Art”.
    My view is: Videogames are something different than what has so far been called Art, thus we should find another word to call them.

    In fact, if we analyze the processes behind Art, we can understand that:

    – A work of Art is born when someone uses a language to its limits.
    – Any language is a media to express ideas through communication processes.
    – Communication is a process where we see someone expressing, a media being the vehicle for the expression and someone else getting the message.

    Videogames are not communication, as they give the receiver the ability to directly change the content of the message. The only option given by Art is instead to interpret the message, not to change it ( except for rare cases of interactive art ).

    Call it a limit of Art or videogames being just good entertainment. This is up to you.
    But videogames are not Art.

    Like

    October 6, 2012
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    March 18, 2016

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