Literature and Games: 'Playing the Reader'

Illustration for article titled Literature and Games: Playing the Reader

I really like the idea of turning classic literature into games, mostly in the form of parodies (but moderately thoughtful ruminations are welcome, too). Over at GameSetWatch, Emily Short looks at the literature/game combination in the one genre that churns out book-related games at an alarming pace: the dreaded hidden object game. She concedes that it sometimes works really well (as in the case of Agatha Christie novels, or Sherlock Holmes), but the disconnect between the narrative and gameplay in examples such as The Count of Monte Cristo is frustrating (she does offer the caveat that she's not a fan of the genre in general, but her criticisms still stand):

... I also find The Count of Monte Cristo frustrating because the mechanic is such a bad form of interaction for the storytelling that is supposedly going on in the game. I would be a little more patient (I think) if the object searches were a little more relevant to the game's supposed narrative, but in the case of the Cristo game, we get to search for absurd things in various settings around Marseille. (To give credit where due, the settings themselves are designed to be period French rooms — but that doesn't quite excuse the fact that apparently one of the damning bits of evidence against the villain is, in fact, a pine cone.)

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She breaks down more successful marriages of literature and game, which mostly center on gameplay that actually seems to relate to the narrative. Personally, I find a lot of hidden object games to be the worst offenders in 'crappy casual games' — sure, there are some that are nicely put together, but many are eye-sores of poorly put together photographs that just look ... cheap — so I guess I fall into the same category as Short. And people are supposed to want to shell out money for these things? In any case, I'm always interested in Short's opinions on narrative design and applications to here-and-now games, and this article is worth a read. It's not enough to drape a mantle of 'classic literature' around a game — it's nothing but nice window dressing unless it's supported by gameplay (I would still love to see the FPS version of Wuthering Heights, however). Playing the Reader [GameSetWatch]

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DISCUSSION

Just as there are few faithful adaptations of classic novels on film, I can see even fewer ones for games. Much of the charm novels have come from allowing the reader to absorb the linear story at their own pace and visualize the story through the reader's imagination.

In order words, no two readers of the same book will likely read and interpret the story the exact same way.

In this day and age, our technological advances in visual design/presentation and storage capacity have made it possible to include realistic CG scenes and full voice acting in our games. While this does help flesh out the characters and story, this leaves the viewer with less and less of the story-telling as a product of their own imagination. Thus, diminishing the charm of the story and the it's symbolic elements present with-in the novel.

For me, creating a good game and writing a good novel are two entirely separate art forms.

Great read though :)