Little by little, gaming is creeping into and threatening to take over other entertainment mediums. Whether it’s Telltale arguably outshining film, comic books, and television with their own digital interpretations of popular franchises or Hollywood’s increasingly less-desperate attempts to transfer the success of beloved game properties to the big screen, gaming is constantly increasing its pop culture presence.
But what about books? Surely with younger generations still miraculously retaining the ability to read and write creatively in the age of Twitter and gamers making up the majority of young consumers, it was only a matter of time before we started getting stories that incorporate digital entertainment as a central element. Independent author Anthea Sharp is ahead of the curve and her self-published Feyland series may represent the first wave of Western fantasy fiction aimed squarely at gamers.
Feyland‘s premise is somewhat similar to Japan’s own gamercentric Sword Art Online in that it deals with near-future virtual reality technology and video games that immerse you so completely that they can trap players inside and even potentially harm them. But while SAO keeps things entirely science-fiction based with the only fantasy elements being in-game, Feyland takes a more magical approach, blending the futuristic technology with ye olde world folklore in new and unpredictable ways.
Standard fantasy and sci-fi are awesome, but blending them with video games is a bit obvious, don’t you think? What Sharp’s books do is go back in time to classical pre-Tolkien mythologies and bring those classical-yet-almost-forgotten elements into a new age using interactive virtual entertainment as a likely medium. In some folklore, the magical beings retain their power only so long as we mortals interact with them. And with the actual game of Feyland being a realistic virtual environment populated by representations of the magical beings of yore, it’s a pretty inspired idea to suggest that this digitized invocation of these forgotten races could empower them to infiltrate the virtual space and displace their own avatars to create mischief.
The books themselves are competently written and represent light fantasy fare, with stories centered around male/female protagonist duos from different worlds -usually figuratively, sometimes literally- coming together both in-game and out while navigating the perils of a virtual world overrun with strange magic. The overarching plot concerns the VR game of Feyland in its development stages and the testers and developers discovering that it has become a gateway between the human world and the same magical realm that inspired its creation. The game’s creator died in the early stages and is found living as his own avatar in-game, having made a deal with the faerie folk. Talk about an immersive interface. The corporation responsible for funding the game, VirtuMax, naturally disbelieves the stories of genuine magic and continues pushing for the release of the game, which would put millions within reach of the often-malicious fae and give them countless opportunities to infiltrate thee real world.
The original Feyland trilogy concerned the protagonists Jennet, privileged daughter of a game developer, and Tam, an exceptional gamer mired in poverty, and their efforts to thwart the monarchs of the Dark and Bright Courts in their attempts to break into the human world using gamers who wander into their realms. The ongoing sequel series, Feyguard, has filled out the cast nicely by putting supporting characters in the driver’s seat, making a whole interesting team of characters dedicated to policing the boundary between the two worlds as VirtuMax preps the game for worldwide release.
Sharp is clearly a veteran RPG gamer who injects her experiences with virtual entertainment into the otherwise typical fantasy narrative to create some fresh new elements in arguably the most done-to-death genre in popular literature. Adding in elements like cooldown times for abilities and avatar creation as well as the question of whether any given opponent they encounter is part of the actual game or a genuine faerie creature out to entrap them makes for some interesting and original elements for sure.
And like any good geek, the author is not exclusively obsessed with video games but, in this case, also with faerie folklore and mythology. It’s a winning combination. Feyland is built top-to-bottom on the fascinating (and sometimes bizarre) European faerie stories and all of the creatures in them, some of which have made their way into the popular fantasy lexicon and some of which have not. The rules, practices, and traditions of the fae folk and the poems and tales surrounding them are integrated into the stories in some interesting ways, occasionally mirroring the situations our heroes and heroines find themselves in.
The obvious question that springs to mind when discussing a fantasy novel based on video gaming is “would it make a good game?” And the answer in this casr will certainly be “yes”. Heck, the author has already done most of the conceptual work herself. And with the stories taking place across multiple worlds, there’s a lot of potential there to do what Assassin’s Creed has done in terms of integrating VR and “real-world” environments together, only much better. Hell yeah, I’d love to play a Feyland game. Will it happen? Probably not given most of the gaming industry’s pathological aversion to quality adaptations and the relative obscurity of the budding franchise in question, but at least there are more books on the way.
While reading the series, it struck me that there could be a kind of symmetry here. These novels about a resurgence of centuries-old folklore using a new medium struck a chord with me. People wrote down all of these stories and poems about magical creatures and heroes way back when and they’ve endured in some way, shape or form for countless years through several forms of media. With video games hurtling towards becoming the dominant entertainment medium thanks to their ability to allow the player to not only experience a story and world through other characters’ eyes but to actively interact with it on a personal level, I wonder if centuries down the line, people won’t be creating variations on the legends of Link, Commander Shepard, and Master Chief the same way we’ve passed down ancient stories in writing through the ages.
Video games have given us so many memorable experiences and creating so many amazing stories over the years, it’s not too hard to see some of these sticking around in some form. The explosion of new mythologies and world-building we’re experiencing in modern interactive entertainment could be our generation’s legacy to future generations to be re-imagined, re-created, and re-integrated into new forms of entertainment and mythologies in the future. That series like Feyland are coming along blending ancient folklore with modern video gaming is evidence enough that the two mediums share a human connection; both metaphorically in the story and literally in real life.
The first Feyland book, The Dark Court, is available to download for free for anyone who’s interesting in seeing what happens when classical faerie folklore, video games, and sci-fi/fantasy prose have a party together and I’ve found that the Feyguard series is shaping up to be even better. Anthea Sharp may be on to something here. I recommend checking it out.
Image Credit: http://mediciuniversity.co.uk/creativity/antheasharp/