As Narrative Games Boom, Where Are The Games Based On Books?

As Narrative Games Boom, Where Are The Games Based On Books?
Square Enix | Toei | Focus Features | Penguin

Written by 

Joseph Kime


4th May 2022 15:40

We've had a lot of video games based on other properties over the years, and for good reason. Though the era of the tie-in game is largely over, some of the most underrated games of all time came from the trend, like the PlayStation's Toy Story 2 or Spider-Man 2. And without the agency to adapt tabletop games to the digital medium, we'd be without Cyberpunk and Vampire: The Masquerade among others. But largely, one means of adaptation is widely missing.

Interestingly, books aren't often used as the source of inspiration for video games, despite being what many would consider the absolute most concentrated way to spell out a narrative. It's also home to some of the oldest stories known to us in the 21st century, meaning the opportunity to tell stories from the perspectives of its historical era - so where are the video games based on books? And what's the potential of the adaptation?

Where Are The Video Game Adaptations Of Novels?

As Narrative Games Boom, Where Are The Games Based On Books?
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Technically we've had video games adapted from video games in the past, with The Witcher as a series stemming from Andrzej Sapkowski's fantasy books, and if you want to get technical about it, there's an argument to be made about the point of reference for the Batman Arkham series being a direct line to comic books. But as narrative games have blossomed over the last decade and more, it's stunning to see that there haven't been more games that follow the same formula that helped Telltale Games and Square Enix's Western studios to flourish.

When considering the successes and impressive narrative presentation of the likes of The Walking Dead, Life Is Strange, Firewatch, and What Remains of Edith Finch, it seems like deviations of truly classic novels could be brought to life in whole new ways. Of course, the first port of call for adaptation is to make a beeline for fantasy and action, but there's every chance that more could be done here.

The perspectives of the likes of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte are unique as voices for their time, in their present moments, and just as their film adaptations have done, bringing the worlds of Regency and Victorian-era courtship to choice-led video games could help to give them a successful, if unorthodox, audience. It may seem wild on the surface, and maybe even sacrilegious to give players the chance to deviate from a novel's protagonist's core decisions - but I'd play Emma. And I bet you'd play Emma, too.

Even so, it's safe to say that something like this wouldn't be for "us", per se - a whole new audience that may once have been ignorant of video games could turn their heads to it. Hell, it certainly beats the bizarre Nintendo DS 100 Classic Books cartridge - and though some would be apprehensive about diverting choices away from the clearly masterful writers, it could make for a compelling change for the industry, and could well change it.

But choice doesn't have to be a part of it.

So Many Novels Would Make For Incredible Games

As Narrative Games Boom, Where Are The Games Based On Books?
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Warner Bros

Though the choice-led narrative archetype would make for a great framework for swathes of adaptations, there are others that would play like an absolute treat.

A point-and-click Agatha Christie adventure series, even bringing in the pompous Poirot, would make for a mysterious treat that would tickle the mystery hole that gaming has seemed to feel since the release of L.A. Noire.

The creatures and horrors that lie in wait in the pages of the works of H.P Lovecraft would spring to life in video games, as would the iconic terror in the works of Stephen King. The Shining, Firestarter, Salem's Lot - all ripe for the adaptation. Plus, though the battle royale is more than its own beast in the gaming industry now, where's the Battle Royale battle royale?

There's so much potential here that's completely untouched, in an industry that has practically exhausted its last plan, the movie tie-in. We've seen how Back to the Future: The Game fared, and with the deeply strange concept of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo raising more eyebrows than hopes, it's high time that we readjust our monitors and look for the stories elsewhere. And where better to start than the bookshelf?

Novels-To-Video-Games Could Be A Goldmine

As Narrative Games Boom, Where Are The Games Based On Books?
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Andre Wallin

This is new water to tread, and though developers aren't likely to jump at the chance of a potential failure, but this could genuinely be a great plan. So many stories are lost to people who simply don't like to read, and this could be an amazing chance to put those narratives into their hands, both literally and figuratively. 

It may seem like a long shot, but getting chased around Moscow by a human-sized kitten on all fours in the indie adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita sounds like incredible fun, and a marker of the fact that books can make it in the video game world just as well as films can. Now get to work, Square Enix - I want Jane Eyre: The Game on my desk by Friday.


Joseph Kime is the Senior Trending News Journalist for GGRecon from Devon, UK. Before graduating from MarJon University with a degree in Journalism, he started writing music reviews for his own website before writing for the likes of FANDOM, Zavvi and The Digital Fix. He is host of the Big Screen Book Club podcast, and author of Building A Universe, a book that chronicles the history of superhero movies. His favourite games include DOOM (2016), Celeste and Pokemon Emerald.

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