You know, almost every time a big blockbuster movie comes out, there is some weak sauce video game adaptation releasing on top of it that makes nobody happy. It’s one thing to go to a movie and be entertained for a few hours by a cleverly written and well-paced adventure romp or whatever filled with the subtle charms of our favorite actors at their best. It’s another entirely to spend twenty hours or so hitting and shooting things in between cutscenes in a video game approximation of the story that has none of those things.
Why are video game companies messing with these things at all? The budgets are likely so crushed acquiring the rights and likenesses and celebrity voices that a good game is barely even an objective. If you want to adapt a really great story and give the developers something to stretch out on and create something that serves both gamers and the original work, why not adapt classic novels?
Most of them are public domain, they are filled with characters everybody knows, timeless themes, great writing (obviously), and usually consist of struggles and predicaments that would make for a worthy challenge. Gaming has taken massive strides in storytelling, so maybe it’s time we upped our standards a little and started adapting fictional works worthy of the art form it’s becoming. Interactivity is the wave of the present and future, and what better way to commemorate that then bringing the greatest stories of the past to life in a new way? Here are the first five works of classic literature I’d buy in a heartbeat if they were made into major video games.
Okay, maybe that isn’t the actual title of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of classic pulp sci-fi novels, but the unofficial title of “The Barsoom Series” doesn’t really have recognizable appeal. Disney made a half-hearted attempt at a film franchise in 2012 with the reasonably entertaining John Carter, but who the hell would go see a movie with such a bland name? It’s really a shame that the film didn’t do better because the strength of the series about a Civil War badass mysteriously transported to Mars where he is endowed with superhuman abilities due to lesser gravity isn’t really uncovered until the sequels.
The rich imaginative mythology of Barsoom (the name Martians have for their home planet) absolutely BEGS for a video game adaptation. The numerous races, locales, factions, characters, politics, and cultures along with the warlike nature of the planet’s people would make a perfect setting for an action MMO with objective-based large scale conflicts and faction heroes like Star Wars: Battlefront in addition to good old-fashioned exploration. Add in Burrough’s fascinating philosophical tinges and you’ve got the kind of franchise that would appeal to almost every kind of gamer.
While the novels’ plots rely heavily (if not entirely) on kidnapped damsels there are so many other possibilities that could be explored in Burrough’s exceptional creation it’s a shame that only comics have really carried the torch for Barsoom. The failure of the film does nothing to lessen the potential here. Gamers aren’t moviegoers. If you make a quality product and properly support it, we will come. And the prospect of a well-made game using the John Carter novels as a canvas for players to paint their own adventures on is something anybody should be excited about.
It seems like survival games are on the rise lately, as well as games being driven by player choice. As it is, William Golding’s classic 1954 allegory of the breakdown of social morals in the absence of authority is likely referenced at least daily (if not hourly) when describing peoples’ behavior on the internet and on gaming servers, so why not make it official?
I feel like a game that mixed the social interactivity of BioWare with the resource scavenging of a game like State of Decay in first person would be the best way to explore the deserted island where a group of children are marooned and must learn to fend for themselves. Early sections would be about establishing a steady supply of resources and building relationships with the other kids while exploring the island. The second half….yeah, you know how that goes.
Lord of the Flies would be the perfect crossover title between literature and video games. It’s a classic story full of moral ambiguity, tough choices, horrific consequences, and a lot of the kind of things that game stories are trending towards anyways. Would you cluster together with the majority to survive, or be the voice of reason and be shunned or attacked?
HG Wells’ wrote the definitive alien invasion story way back in 1897 and it was made infamous in 1938 when Orson Welles adapted it as a fake news broadcast on the radio, causing outrage when people believed it was real. There have been several films, television series, comics, musical concept albums, and everything else you’d expect from such a universal work. And yes, War of the Worlds has been adapted into multiple video games.
So why put it on this list? Because RTS and action gaming are just wrong, wrong, wrong for this story and an adaptation in name only isn’t a worthy adaptation at all. Do it right, damn it! Remaking Space Invaders or Warcraft with tripod enemies doesn’t cut it. A proper adaptation should capture at least the narrative of the original work if not the spirit, and the narrative and spirit of the novel are both abject helplessness. There was no blasting your way out of this one. How refreshing would that be for a video game?
No, the aim of this game would have to be survival and evasion. A stealth-bases survival horror game where tripods hunt you constantly and you have to stay under cover and find supplies to survive. And on top of genocidal aliens, the desperate masses of your fellow man are there in their wretched glory to contend with too. As great as War of the Worlds is, it has seldom been done justice, and given the compact nature of the original narrative and bottomless depth of the thematic elements present in it, there is so much to be expanded on. And a story-based video game would be the best possible way to expand it in my opinion.
Just about every avenue for exploring this story has been explored from heavy metal albums to anime to rap songs to stage musicals to cartoons to the mandatory film and television adaptations. But interestingly, the only Moby Dick video games have been free indie games like the recent Pequod that flip the script and put you in control of the rampaging whale. This is, of course, awesome, but it certainly doesn’t do the original work justice.
Then again, I’d argue that even the original novel falls short of itself. Herman Melville was an absolute beast of a writer and his seminal 1851 work about whaling and the senselessness of vengeance takes many occasions to prove the strength of his prose. But if Moby Dick were released today it would be savaged for its bizarre pacing and constant descents into whatever the hell Melville felt like talking about. Amazing story and wonderfully written, but it often sacrifices narrative depth for the sake of the author’s flights of fancy and unnecessary documentarian detail.
But this is one thing that would help make for a great video game adaptation too. Melville’s obsessive detailing of every aspect of whaling would be an interesting tool in creating the world for a perfect Moby Dick game. An open-sea adventure in the vein of Uncharted Waters (with real time elements, of course) where you travel the world meeting other ships and stopping in ports while hunting whales for profit to keep you going and keep the crew satisfied and non-mutinous.
The characters are all there, the challenge of bringing down massive whales is there in epic detail, and the classic tale is there waiting to be rewritten and expanded upon by the player. I can’t believe nobody has done this yet, but it’s got to happen sooner or later. The concept is just too perfect.
It’s kind of surprising that more Greek mythology isn’t present in video games. We’ve had franchises like Kid Icarus and God of War that draw heavy inspiration from the world-building of ancient Greek storytellers and feature variations on the characters, but very seldom do we see any sort of attempt at actually adapting these timeless stories for gamers. This is particularly odd considering that this mythology is pretty much what the entire fantasy genre is based upon, which was in turn, the main inspiration for the role-playing genre of gaming.
The Illiad would be another obvious one, and should maybe be first in line, being the oldest work of Western literature and all, but I’d actually rather see them skip straight to Homer’s follow up, The Odyssey, which resembles nothing so much as an epic action RPG. Taking place after the fall of Troy, it chronicles the journeys of the Ithacan king Odysseus, harried by the sea god Poseidon, as well as his family’s struggles as they await his decade-delayed return.
The opening of the game could be Odysseus’ carrying out of his infamous Trojan Horse stratagem and the events of the sacking of Troy. As he carries out his ill-fated journey home confronting horrific monsters, seductive sorceresses, cannibals, and the rest of the Greek rogues gallery the side stories could be filled in bit by bit concerning the politics of Olympus, and the situation back in Ithaca where 108 douchebag suitors besiege Odysseus’ estate to claim his wife and title. While the original poem deals with each of these stories one at a time, an adaptation that staggered them as a single narrative in segments would obviously have better flow, and playing as the hero’s son, Telemachus, and his patron goddess Athena could be a nice diversion to flesh out these other aspects.
When looking for worthy subjects to fulfill gaming’s present and future, where better to look that the classics of the past? Film and television have relied on new variations and reimaginings of old literature for their entire existence. Maybe it’s time video games flexed their storytelling muscle by showing us new interactive possibilities to let us experience some of the greatest stories ever told from a new point of view.