180: The Greatest Shame of All

The Greatest Shame of All

Gamers may feel like outcasts, but there's one group even they won't touch. Andrew Webster examines why readers of videogame-based novels are at the bottom of the geek totem pole.

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Good read. Reminded me of Raymond E. Fesit adapting Betrayal at Krondor. He actually included scenes of the characters fighting bandits, looting their corpses, and then selling the loot at a pawn shop. In the game it was that same ritualistic sensation of accomplishment and increasing my wealth, in the book it was...kinda morbid.

Definately an interesting and though provoking article. Personally I've always found the idea of Videogame novels odd and slightly off putting and have never been able to venture into that realm of literature myself. I guess it's because, to me, they really aren't very literary and they never feel like actual "literature".

I suppose I consider videogame novels to be one step below the much lambasted "Game Fiction," a term frequently bandied about in speculative fiction circles which refers, in its most refined essence, to works of fiction based on Roleplaying games, specifically Dungeons and Dragons. They bare all the hallmarks of those games, characters with discernable classes and events that can be easily recreated within the role-playing game.
Take the much lauded Dragonlance Chronicles, the novels in that trilogy are obviously part of an epic Roleplaying campaign that must have inspired the players and game masters to transform it into a novel, yet it still has many hallmarks. A dungeon crawl complete with a great artifact for the heroes to find, negotiations to make and even a boss to fight. While it is readable, it feels silly and not particularly literary.

As well some games that are transformed into novels, Baldurs Gate being an interesting example, show the problem of Character Creation in relation to story. How can one write a novel about a story in which the players craft and manipulate the plot with a character of their own design, with a personality imposed upon that character by that player? To someone who has played the game, the novel will never feel right, it won't be the character they grew to know and love. Similarly what if you didn't recruit the characters portrayed as "main" in the story, what if you ditched Immoen, or Khalid and Jahera.I suppose it works in Mass Effect because you can neglect Commander Shephard by setting the story before his/her appearance but the problem persists.

I am an absolute glutton for backstory. After learning of the Halo novels after playing the first game, I immediately found each one and read them all, and eagerly awaited the others as they came. For me, a large part of the draw of the books is learning more than can be put into any reasonable game.

I agree that not all of these kinds of books are good on their own, but even games I didn't think could translate into book form I was surprised on. Morrowind, a very diverse game, that can be played in any number of ways, never had an official book, but there was a guy who wrote out a journal for his character, Arvil Bren, written as though it were all real. It took the role playing aspect to a level I had never seen before, and was fascinating to read. It's a shame he quit doing it, since he took it way beyond what the game was capable of delivering, as though he were really living in the Elder Scrolls world.

Not every game can or should have a novelization or related book, but if it's possible, I would support it 100%.

Article:
[Andrew Webster] keeps his two-dozen-strong collection of Star Wars novels in chronological order.

So do I, although mine's closer to one dozen.

Pet peeve disclaimer: it bothers me when people use the terms "literature" and "literary" as qualitative words, implying that being literature requires a certain amount of "goodness" and that all literature, therefore, is naturally "good." I just don't think that works, or should work, like that. I have similar feelings towards to use of the word "art" and saying that a piece that someone doesn't like or appreciate isn't "real art."

Anyway, more on topic, I can definitely relate to some of the sentiment in this article. Mass Effect made me fall in love with BioWare and American RPGs in a way that I just hadn't before, and I've been curious about the novels but have steered away, not being able to justify buying or reading what is classified in my mind as "cheap merchandising in book form." This article helped give me some faith in the novels though, so I may go check them out after all. I'm already salivating over Dragon Age Origins and would probably be willing to delve into its "expanded universe."

I read the Artifact Cycle of the Magic: the Gathering books and they actually weren't bad (at least I don't remember them being bad, I was in junior high at the time), and I read the first Dragonlance book. While it was enjoyable, I do see Pedro's point in that, if you're a D&D gamer or familiar at all with RPGs, you can kind of see the man behind the screen. Its like knowing how a hot dog is made: it kind of takes the magic and wonder out of it. That said, playing D&D 4th edition lately has rekindled my interest in D&D novels, but not until I finish reading what's available of A Song of Fire and Ice. Priorities and all :-).

I can honestly say I've bought one book based on a video game. Blaster Master. It's an awkward experience because I wasn't that big a fan of the game, but I loved the book so much that I would force myself to play through it again and again until I could finally reach the ending.

That one example aside, my snobbish ways have always led me to look at literary adaptations of video games to be a form of professional fan-fiction. It's rare that I'll find the characters in a story so compelling or the world so fantastic that I would want to go out and purchase a book based on either of these.

The hardest part comes from the fact that these books are only in slim circumstances created by people who had anything to do with the game to begin with. I never like working within boundaries of somebody else's creation. It seems too limiting and there's this overwhelming lack of information that looms above you like some dark cloud, making it difficult to foresee what a certain character would do if given specific circumstances.

On the other hand, I very often take recommendations of good books, so if anybody wants to recommend some, feel free to PM me and I promise to read the book with an open mind.

I'll admit that I read the Doom books way back when they came out (at which time it was excusable; I was 14) - and they were hilariously cheesy - but I must admit that a few years later I read the Ultima books (based on the lore that would have been Ultima Online 2), and despite being a bit 2-dimensional, they were fairly well-written books.

After I played through "Planescape: Torment", I thought to myself about how it would make a fantastic book. After finding a copy of the novelization on E-bay, I found that I was very very wrong. That game had hours of beautiful prose and dialog already...the book would have been far better if they were merely copy and pasted into a coherent form. That was the first and last time I ever read a novel based on a game.

Books based on Interactive Electronic Media are the literary equivalent of wild meat...

Regardless of the quality of the flavor, they just always taste a little too gamey...

PedroSteckecilo:
Books based on Interactive Electronic Media are the literary equivalent of wild meat...

Regardless of the quality of the flavor, they just always taste a little too gamey...

Little bit of sauce though, and you won't recognise the difference.

The_root_of_all_evil:

PedroSteckecilo:
Books based on Interactive Electronic Media are the literary equivalent of wild meat...

Regardless of the quality of the flavor, they just always taste a little too gamey...

Little bit of sauce though, and you won't recognise the difference.

Pardon me sir, would you like a little dijon with your Gears of War novelization? It clears up the long segments of "take cover and fire" nicely.

I read Mega Man 2: the book when I was like... 5.

PedroSteckecilo:

The_root_of_all_evil:

PedroSteckecilo:
Books based on Interactive Electronic Media are the literary equivalent of wild meat...

Regardless of the quality of the flavor, they just always taste a little too gamey...

Little bit of sauce though, and you won't recognise the difference.

Pardon me sir, would you like a little dijon with your Gears of War novelization? It clears up the long segments of "take cover and fire" nicely.

I think that would take a good deal of Reggae Reggae sauce to deal with that; but there have been some very good novels based off other media types.

Drew Karpyshyn is an amazing author, and the Mass Effect books were great examples of good game based literature. I also think the Halo books got it right aswell and are for the most part good. The only one that sucked was The Flood which looking upon your article seems to agree with eveything you've said as it is the only book that actually recapped the events of the game.

I have an admission to make.

I... own all four Doom novels.

Seriously, it's funny as hell. Especially in the third book where the main character is copied into a computer simulation and starts going all Matrix-y with making demons be friendly and talk.

Or was that the fourth book? I forget. It's not like I go back and reread them.

I too own the Doom books. The bit with the Mormons though... And the Freds... It was amusing in it's own quirky way but definitely not Doom.

As for general tastes in books, I tend to keep to 40K fiction which has a huge volume of subject matter to work with and I've gotten all the Blood Angel books which were passable. Though one of my favourite game to book novels is Firewarrior. Amusingly enough, the game is utter crap but the book is one of the best examples of 40K and a good entry point for a neophyte to the verse.

I own the Pokemon book. It basically follows the game and includes screen shots It was not teribbly deep, but it was enteratining. The Pokemon comic books, on the other hand are a little bit deeper with an interesting way Ash came into contact with Pikachu.

My main problem with game novels is that they usually fail to give a well rounded narrative, focusing too much on certain familiar details.
I tried to read a few but something always lost my interest, whether it be the immature style, the obsession over details or just plain inconsistency.

the pictures in these articles, especially that of this article, are amongst my favorite adornments in online media. ever.

They may not count as "novels", but I remember reading cluebooks for RPGs that gave the walkthrough in the form of a narrative and were really fun to follow the story through. The original Bards Tale cluebooks in particular were standouts that I remember sneaking in my backpack to read during lunch.

One of the other reasons why some books are better than others is that game novels in the same series are often written by different authors.

If you are going to start on the Halo novels, I suggest the Eric Nylund ones to start: First Strike, The Fall of Reach, Ghosts of Onyx. The others, so far, are very bad, even though I keep buying them.

Yeah I have to agree the Eric Nylund ones are pretty good but I really don't like the other ones.

Besides reading the Halo novels I gave the novelization of Metal Gear Solid a shot, it was just terrible. Stay very far away from it!

One thing I could never understand is why the DOOM novelizations, adapting a game a subliterate could play with two buttons and a hoarse grunt, were so much better than the adaptations of Infocom games, properties renowned for their writing and literary quality. Low quality in spin-offs is rarely a surprise, but what was startling in this case is how much better the DOOM books were than they really needed to be.

Eldritch Warlord:

Article:
[Andrew Webster] keeps his two-dozen-strong collection of Star Wars novels in chronological order.

So do I, although mine's closer to one dozen.

Me too and after Christmas it will be even larger.

I'm not sure what it's like to feel embarrassed to read those books. I love the Star Wars expanded universe and while there's probably not a single book that will be remembered by anyone outside of the fans, who cares. Then again sometimes I reminisce on the Pokemon days and wonder what if, so maybe I'm not the best person to talk.

UnwashedMass:
One thing I could never understand is why the DOOM novelizations, adapting a game a subliterate could play with two buttons and a hoarse grunt, were so much better than the adaptations of Infocom games, properties renowned for their writing and literary quality. Low quality in spin-offs is rarely a surprise, but what was startling in this case is how much better the DOOM books were than they really needed to be.

It's because in the Doom series they had so much more to work with. You didn't have to worry about sticking to a story or in a particular universe. All you had to do was make the character did things that he did in the game, which was kill stuff. Where as in the Infocom games the writer had to take so much more into consideration when writing.

Zerbye:
After I played through "Planescape: Torment", I thought to myself about how it would make a fantastic book. After finding a copy of the novelization on E-bay, I found that I was very very wrong. That game had hours of beautiful prose and dialog already...the book would have been far better if they were merely copy and pasted into a coherent form. That was the first and last time I ever read a novel based on a game.

That book was a horror and a travesty from start to finish. A sin against art!

Rereading the Circle of Zerthimon 100 times is way more fun.

-- Alex

I found this interesting because this is an area I was considering diving into in the near future. Mostly because of my love of the story telling behind the game 'Planescape: Torment' I have been considering buying the book and if it is even remotely as interesting as the game it may quickly become a favorite read.

Anyone familiar with the territory of video game books think particular titles stand out as superior?

EDIT: Hehe, sounds like it may not be a very good book (reading other posts). Pity, such an awesome story and dialogue deserve a great book.

Great article even if you do have one foot stuck in the bear trap. You even, for a moment, caused me to reconsider my knee jerk contempt for videogame literature but then it came back. My biggest problem is that even if videogame literature became more refined it would still only have the velocity of a Michael Chrichton novel and those are not the qualities I look for in literature.

I won't make grand statements about the lack of potential inherent withink videogame source material since even Rod Serling was able to convey profound things within a Science Fiction themed television show. I guess what I'm saying is that videogames needs their own Rod Serling.

whats wrong with being a geek?

Sillyiggy:
EDIT: Hehe, sounds like it may not be a very good book (reading other posts). Pity, such an awesome story and dialogue deserve a great book.

Yeah, the problem is that that particular book is a story that resembles the game only very generally and superficially. It's not just a bad retelling, it's not really a retelling at all! None of the themes or style of the game story make it into the book, nor do a lot of really simple details like what the supporting characters look like or what the whole point of the game is.

It's like the authors either barely knew anything about the game. My best guess is that they wrote the whole thing before Torment had concept art or a fully-developed ending. The only other explanation would be that they hated everything about the game and decided to replace as much of it as possible while still being able to publish their story as a Torment novelization.

Man, that shitty book really broke my teenage heart.

(What was actually pretty fun was getting a dialogue browser, e.g. Infinity Explorer, and reading through the game's dialogue, including some of the cut content. The old Planescape D&D campaign setting material is kinda interesting, too, really fills in the world -- you can probably find some of it really cheaply in PDF form these days.)

-- Alex

Perhaps books based on games can't be good because in comparison to the game, which has the assistance of technology to flush out it's story has an implied advantage over it's paper-bound brother.

Try reading a book before you play it's game and you may be surprised.

 

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