Guest Writer: Novelisation of Games

This article has been written and submitted by posem.

I am Ezio Auditore Da Firenze. I am also Ethan Mars. My name, on occasions, may be Sackboy. For a month of Wednesdays I used the name of Wander. Once upon a time I went by the name of Niko Bellic but that’s another story.

The difference between a game and a novel is that in a game you are the person, you are the construct of the editor and the publisher and the designers and every other person involved in the game. You are the game. In a novel, the author is telling the story of the protagonist; imagine watching your best friend on a roller coaster and being able to hear his thoughts on the whole, this is more comparable to the reading experience whereas in a game you are the best friend riding the coaster instead of merely being the onlooker. Yet is that necessarily a bad thing?

[drop]Fan fiction is big in the internet world, I would know as I occasionally write some, most of the time, however, I read it and surprisingly, some of it is actually good. Fans write this kind of media to expand the world that they love so much, whether it be the world of a novel or a film or a game. I’ve read countless tales about Snake and his inner turmoil, much loving BioEye and his fresh take upon Metal Gear Solid. I even have copied some tales I love so much into word documents, transformed into ebooks and onto my Kindle, they are that good. The increasing amount of fan fiction in the past few years is probably one of the factors of the growing trend of the novelisation of games.

My first experience of the Halo universe (being a PS3 owner) was through ‘The Fall of Reach’, a novel based upon Halo. Yes you are the bystander instead of the main contender, yet it is amazing to learn that Master Chief occasionally worries whilst in the midst of battle, revealing that he is constantly scared whilst at war ‘all the time’, and is as much human on the inside as everyone else, not just a shell or the construct of the game developers. That’s one of the attractions of a game novelisation, they give a character personality.

It’s confusing to say the least, I am a huge fan of Assassins Creed and frequently enjoy slaughtering masses of guards whilst marauding around renaissance Italy with no remorse at all, yet in the books Ezio constantly shows remorse and regret for his killing, on occasions trying to justify himself for this death-dealing. Yes it is not me or my personality represented in him, through the use of a novel the author constructs in our favourite characters, a personality of their own. “Yes!” You may argue “but some game characters already have a personality, take Ezio for instance!”, and to this I would say you have a fair point, but the main embellishment of the protagonist is done through cut scene sequences and unless your name is Metal Gear Solid 4 then it’s unlikely that a lot of ‘relating to the gamer’ is going on during these sequences.

This is where the element of cross media comes in, not reading the novel doesn’t spoil the gaming experience, nor does having never played the game hinder the reading experience (as I’ll explain in a moment). When done effectively, one media industry supports another and makes the experience more enjoyable on a whole. The successful novelisation (text or graphic) of a game supports everything previously laid out in the digital media, then embellishes these foundations to provide a broader and more intricate insight into the game world and its characters. Not once in Halo (or so I’m told) does the Master Chief express his sorrow or fear at killing, yet this is played on in the Halo books to add another element to the narrative and further to make his character more intriguing to the audience, the fact that he is scared constantly (yet hides it in his traditional manly fashion) humanises his character and allows the reader to bond more with the protagonist.

My uncle has recently retired at the graceful age of ‘old’, after many years working for Coventry Council since leaving school at 16. He makes a hobby of visiting Waterstones every two or three weeks and purchasing every new ‘bestseller’ that is on display, then spends his time engrossed in these books (or tending his rather large vegetable garden) and donates the books to my father once read. My father usually reads them, I may claim a few, and the rest are donated to the Scout jumble sale held every month.

[drop2]Now here’s the funny thing, my Uncle has trouble working a DVD player, he expressed medium interest yet a technophobic –humph- at my new Kindle, but in the latest batch of donated books we’ve received from him I found buried at the bottom a small treasure. When I asked his opinion of the book, he replied that he thoroughly enjoyed the historical detail of 17th century Rome and the Assassin/Templar plotline. I was outstounded that my Uncle had unwittingly and unknowingly read the novelisation of Assassins Creed Brotherhood, and loved it for what it was. So there’s no question really that when done well, the use of cross-media techniques with certain games is incredibly successful.

This is the part of the article where I start making up words. Graphic novels have shown time and time again that they can recreate the action in games, in an enjoyable comic format. Indeed the opposite is also true; take Arkham Asylum, an amazingly well drawn comic which spawned an equally well created game from nowhere. The graphic novel itself was perhaps slightly short, fairly short for the average graphic novel, yet the storytelling and artistic design of the images was so stunning that it conveyed a wider storyline to the reader than was actually being portrayed in the written text. The same is true of the game, the storyline may not be so long as some others but the plethora of content in the game allows the gamer to expand upon the storyline with background information and hints to a wider entanglement with the outside world.

The ‘gamelization’ of novels is becoming another trick in the industry to watch out for, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. I can’t count how many hours I wasted upon Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis for PS2, and indeed my sole reason for buying a 60gb PS3 was so I could continue to shepherd lots of ravaging dinosaurs in my own little park. The game was unique in itself, and it was an intriguing spin off from the books (albeit it probably being more inspired by the films, which in turn were inspired by the books. All roads eventually lead to Narnia). Of course my example of ‘Operation Genesis’ was stringent at best, but I have no doubt that this gamelization of novels and other text based medias will only continue to grow in the future. Books may need several sequels to tie an epic tale together (like The Dark Tower series), yet if a game is created right then maybe it would all be combined it one long, single disc. Maybe I’m just being hopeful, we all know it won’t happen and it’ll be distributed on as many discs (and instalments, volume 77…) as possible.

My point, to conclude, is that the novelisation of games (or gamelisation of novels) isn’t a bad thing. To newcomers such as my Uncle, it allows them an insight into a world they would normally never encounter; yet as the narrative has been inserted into a few-hundred year old trusted format, a variety of gamephobic (there I go again) readers would be more likely to read a book about a game than actually play the game (provided they have no idea it’s based upon a game and is merely elaborate fictional literature).

I’d like to see more games turned into books, tell me you wouldn’t like a crime/thriller book of Heavy Rain (with included sheets and instructions for origami) or maybe a novelisation of ‘epics’ such as Uncharted, which would make for a great adventure tale. Even picking up a copy of a novelisation yourself, as a gamer, is never a bad thing as it allows you to comfortably relive the narrative of the game at your own pace. Films of games rarely work well, however books of games work considerably better.

Try it, trust me, if you find something in a book that you once enjoyed playing then where’s the harm in repeating that experience, albeit in a different format to what we’re all used to?

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16 Comments

  1. Great stuff. I absolutely love reading novels based on a game franchise, and in some cases it improves the actual gaming experience. A case in point would be Gears of War – the books are fantastic and by reading them you realise that Marcus et al aren’t just mindless grunts, and it was fascinating to read their motivations and back-story.

  2. =]

  3. BOY- PLAYS X-BOX

    GIRL- *(SIGH)*

    BOY- WHATS WRONG

    GIRL- NOTHING

    BOY- TURNS OFF X-BOX

    GIRL- WHY ARENT YOU PLAYING

    BOY- BECAUSE THERES BETTER STUFF TO DO

    GIRL-*(BLUSHES)*

    BOY- TURNS ON PS3

    GIRL- ಠ_ಠ

    • Ha ha ha ha…

    • Spam much?

      • Yeah, what’s up with this?

        It made more sense on the portal topic I suppose (being that it is apparently better on PS3), but here it makes no sense at all!

      • Hear hear, Forrest!

  4. I love the Halo novels, probably one of the few good novels based on games that I have read. Unfortunately some people at school call me sad for reading them but I still like them. I’ve almost finished First Strike now and will be reading Ghosts of Onyx for a second time after that. I’m also thinking of writing a fanfic.

    Great topic, BTW.

  5. Great read. Maybe in a different direction but I do like ‘add ons’ to games if you will.

    Animated movies tend to be my favourite with Street Fighter and Dead Space being my faves. Resident Evil had a decent outing too. But its nice to delve into the characters history, reasons and intentions within the game, especially when its one as shallow as Street Fighter [on the story side].

  6. I enjoyed the Resident Evil books, and a long time ago I read some Sonic the Hedgehog ones that were enjoyable.

  7. I’ve just finished the Dragon Age novels (Stolen Throne and The Calling) and although set a fair few years before DAO they do a great job of fleshing out some of the background story. Theyre not the best books I’ve ever read by a long way, probably along the line of “Mills and Boon for Gamers” but they do serve a purpose for fans of any given game world. Dead Space’s comics, certainly for the original, where very well done and have made me a bigger fan of the setting than the game alone would have done.

  8. I loved Assassin’s Creed: Renaissance, and I can’t wait to pick up Brotherhood. I enjoyed reading it, and I could also view the scenes in my mind’s eye as I was reading, and sometimes you can’t picture things as clearly when you’re reading a book.

  9. Not really interested in novels or novelisation but your opening paragraph was beautiful in how it summed up video gaming and the escape it provides. Quite profound and I think you for it. :-)

    • s’all down to taste bro.
      im considering writing something else upon ‘the representation of gender in video games’

  10. This article sums up what I feel about games & their stories very well :)
    I’ve read a book based in The Elder Scrolls universe. I enjoyed it, but I think I only enjoyed it because it was so related to things I knew about [after playing the game] rather than it being actually well written.

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