Days of High Adventure: Gaming Fiction

Days of High Adventure: Gaming Fiction

From H.G. Wells' wargames to Dragonlance, games - video and tabletop both - have inspired further narratives. This week, games author Matt Forbeck starts a series pulling back the curtain on the art of the gaming tie-in.

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Eh, I enjoy some of the derivative fiction. And some of it is much better than 'original works of fiction.' And I've enjoyed some of these stories much more than even some Pulitzer Prize winning works.

But it doesn't matter. People who get bent out of shape about tie-in fiction clearly don't have enough to fill their days with.

Guilty pleasures perhaps...

However, I don't think it's any problem that these books relate to gaming. They're as varied as much as other fiction books, in both depth and quality.

My experience of such books is the trilogy that was essentially the prequel to the Baldur's Gate games, which I thought were as well written as other fantasy fiction that I've read.

They also seem to sell quite well, and quite frankly I'd rather people were reading these sorts of books than celebrity biographies or similar.

I am an avid Black Library (Warhammer 40k) reader, but I own no miniatures and don't realy like the Dawn of War games. I enjoy them mostly for the fleshed out Crapsack World and the psudo latin vocabulary. That and Dan Abnett realy puts forth a good tale.

Fascinating article.

I'm still bitter over Assassin's Creed: Renaissance. The novel read like poor fanfiction, and considering the wealth of story that the author could have delved into and the poor execution, I could not finish it.

Games provide a unique background that is made uniform for both reader and author - for the depths of exploration the reader has accomplished and perhaps the same by the author. With the amount of experience the reader has gained, through the eyes and adventures of characters - I find reading good gaming tie-in novels an absolute treat. Yet, with great experience, comes great expectations. I don't need authors catering to the whims of selling a novel, but authors invested in crafting a story and realizing its characters. That will sell me the book.

Anyhow. I'm quite excited to hear about the Guild Wars novel - perhaps this foray into game-novels will be more enlightening than my last. :)

The Chronicles trilogy was fantastic, and I really enjoyed the All Flesh Must Be Eaten anthologies, but yeah. For some reason, when I think of licensed literature, all that comes to mind is the Doom comic stereotype. I should really work on that.

I enjoyed the Weiss/Hickman Dragonlance stories when I was a younger lad. Chronicles and Legends were fun and accessible series while some of the other Dragonlance stuff was quite uneven.

I never, however, played Dragonlance as a game nor did I have any interest in doing so. Now I have looked back on the old Dragonlance and thought how silly it all seems. But to a young teenager they were fast-paced, exciting and fantastic. If I had kids in the 11-15 year old bracket I would give them books like that to read.

I look at current offerings set in other gaming universes and assume that they fit into the same category. But I could be wrong. Maybe there are some real Sci-fi and fantasy gems that I have missed due to my assumption that they are stories for young adults more than people my age.

Can anyone offer further insight into that? For example I am a fan of warcraft games so would I like a warcarft novel? How would they compare on a scale of 1-5 (with "1" being bad and "5" being amazing).

The original Weis & Hickman Dragonlance trilogies were probably the first "adult" fiction I ever read. I loved non-fiction as a kid, and was reading high-school level books on astronomy and spaceflight in first and second grade, but hated the fiction we were assigned at that level. The only fiction I read before Dragonlance were Choose Your Own Adventure books.

I read Dragonlance around the same time I learned to play D&D and discovered the SSI D&D games for Commodore 64 (sixth grade). When I look back on those and other Weis/Hickman series, I realize they're not great literature, but I'm still grateful for spurring a love of genre fiction and gaming in me.

No other game fiction has ever really appealed to me. I immensely disliked Salvatore's Forgotten Realms books, and the only Magic: the Gathering book I tried to read (it came free with a starter pack of cards) was so bad I threw it against the wall 4 pages in. I read the first two Vampire: the Requiem novels. They weren't great, but better than I thought they'd be. Now there's just so many novels for so many properties, and I have so many other books to read, I don't dare to start anywhere. I don't get enthralled with the settings or characters of most games. I rarely spend more than a week or two on a game; why would I want something that short fleshed out? At least with a pen & paper RPG or LARP, I spend months or years playing the setting. This is part of the reason that Dragon Age are the only video game-based novels that kind of interest me at the moment.

I've honestly never picked up a book which was based off a video game - I don't read much anyway, but I've always figured that if I wanted to experience that setting, I'd just play the game which the novel was based of.

That being said, this article has got me intrigued. Perhaps I just never realised how popular this type of fiction had become - I'll definitely be trying my hand at one of these books in the near future.

Huh. I never knew that the Dragonlance books were based of Dungeons and Dragons. Learn something everyday I suppose. I generally avoid books based on video games, apart from a few (the Halo books-which were recommended by a friend, are actually pretty damn good, and ANYTHING written by Dan Abnett because, well, they're just awesome).

Good article by the way.

I'm sorry, but i'll have to be the critic on this one

Games are not stories. Games can come chock full of story elements like plots, characters, and dialog, but they're inherently different from stories. In games, the players control everything. In stories, the writer dictates everything that happens.

Not that i have anything against you, but such a poorly-thought out paragraph is not what i'd expect from an Escapist article. Not only do i disagree with it, it's also... wrong. Let me explain:

Games are not stories: false.
Games have plot elements, and are different from stories. However, saying "inherently" may be stretching it. The one main thing that makes games different from stories is interactivity. However, there is no such thing as complete interactivity, bar the legal authorization to have access to the game's source code and modify it yourself. But that would no longer make you a player, and is akin to rewriting bits of a book because you don't like them.
Gamers control everything: incredibly false. Gamers control exactly the things they should be controlling, lest they cheat. Every game has things that gamers cannot control, be they in the form of a backstory, random number generators (i.e.: which piece drops next in Tetris) or simply linearity. Nowadays, all games will have the latter element in varying degrees. The boss betrays you - you cannot control that. The nuclear bomb explodes - you cannot control it. Some games let you do that, however the choices you have are dictated by the game's writer, are finite, and eventually lead you to one of the endings which is also controlled not by you, but by the one who put it there. Saying that "gamers control everything" directly conflicts with a notion called "intended game experience" which is something all games inherently have, and is thus a false argument.
Moving on: in stories, the writer dictates everything that happens. Please tell me why this is not also true in games. All the choices you make in a game, down to the last bit, are dictated by the game's designer. Take sandbox games, for instance: you can do many things, yes, but the game will refuse to continue (and thus, refuse to reach its conclusion) until you do specific things dictated by the ones who made the game. Even when we consider random outcomes, like in Tetris, the random element was also placed there by the game designer, and the goal does not change regardless of what element comes. If there's something like a random ending generator, or random plot generator that can spawn infinite variables, then i have not seen it (and if you want to use the Roguelike argument, remember that the variables that game can create, while incredibly large, are still not infinite). To design a competent, successful game, every part of everything you can do must be known by the game designer. If one game lets you grow too powerful, out of the designer's intended scope, then that is considered a flaw in the game. It is not that "the writer dictates everything" in a game, it's more like "the writer MUST know and predict everything that happens" for the game to be complete. And while it is true that gamers are given a semblance of free will, and while that free will is one of the base elements of the theory of fun in game design, remember that it will never be more than a simulation - after all, it's called "simulated freedom of choice" for a reason.

So working by this argument alone, i can argue that i have proven that
a) gamers do not control everything in a game
b) "the writer dictates everything that happens" can also be applied to games
thus your argument is invalid. And if this was the only argument for the "games are not stories" topic (it isn't), then i can clearly say that games are, in fact, stories.

The truth is, games are more than stories, but if only the story interests you, then games can be stories and nothing more. Of course, games without a story are exceptions from this, so let's just say that "any game with story elements can be considered a stand-alone story", with the quality of the story not being considered.

To clarify, an analogy: let's say that in the far future, Apple invents food that can also play mp3s. Let's call it the iEat. What is the iEat, food or an mp3 player? Obviously, it is both, but if the mp3 part does not interest you and you buy it only to eat it, then it can clearly be said that for you, at that moment in time, the iEat was food and nothing else.

I rest my case.

You seem to be limiting the term games to mean only and exclusively video games. If you broaden that a bit to include tabletop games, particularly tabletop RPGs, as I discuss in the article, my meaning should be clearer.

Good article, Matt. Looking forward to reading the rest. As someone who would like to write tie-in fiction, I find any article on the subject fascinating.

How about games like "Betrayal At Krondor"? Raymond Feist writes the Riftwar based on a table-top RPG campaign setting. After several of these Riftwar novels the rights are secured to base a game on it (Betrayal At Krondor). Years later Feist writes a novelization of the game.

So we get a novel based on a video game which is based on some novels which are based on a roll-playing game.

Great article.

It seems singularly difficult to break into this field. The mainstays of the genre of this sort of fiction - Weis & Hickman, R.A. Salvatore, Dan Abnett, Drew Karpyshyn, etc - are well-established and the comparisons between them and any newcomers is inevitable. After some of the experiences I've had trying to break into the business of getting fiction published, it seems to me that tapping into this particular vein requires excelling in another field of spec fiction or knowing somebody in the business, if you're not a part of the business already.

I could be entirely wrong, of course.


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