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Read Your Video Games

March 7, 2014

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I was working on a list of video game to book correspondences.  This is not meant to be a definitive list, just that these are things that occurred to me.  I’m skipping the super obvious ones that have their own books attached like HALO or The Walking Dead.  Those are pretty obvious and you’re probably already aware of them if you’re a gamer.  So, without further ado, here is my list:
thief lock lamoraThief is the granddaddy of all stealth games.  I haven’t actually had the chance to play the newest installment yet, but I’ll probably be terrible at it.  I’m not very good at stealth unless it’s Skyrim and that’s mostly because they make it impossible to get caught unless you’re a moron.  But, with all the previews and reviews that I’ve seen made me think of one book series immediately; Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series.  And yes, this is slightly mean, but the ten-year gap between 2004’s Thief: Deadly Shadows and 2014’s Thief was slightly reminiscent of the gap between books 2 and 3 in Lynch’s series, but Republic of Thieves is here now, so it’s all good.  (And please don’t go harass authors about their publication schedule.  They’re doing the best they can!)

dishonoredlowtownIn a similar stealth vein, there’s Dishonored.  This game, like Thief, is set in a semi-steampunk world.  The protagonist, Corvo, used to be the Empress’s bodyguard until she was murdered and he was framed for it.  Now, a loyalist underground has helped him escape from prison and has set him on the path to get vengeance and track down the rightful heir to the throne.  The two books that this reminded me of the most were Low Town by Daniel Polansky and The Affinity Bridge by George Mann.
affinity bridgeLow Town is set in an epic fantasy-style city underworld, which is pretty much where Corvo lives, at least, in the portions of Dishonored I’ve played so far (I just started it this week).  Affinity Bridge is a slightly less obvious fit since it’s set in the more traditional steampunk setting of the Victorian era.  However, on common theme in all three is that in addition to any political shenanigans going on, each city is also facing a plague that may or may not tie into the central issue.  Affinity Bridge also has a female co-protagonist, which I appreciated.  I’ll play games, or read books with solo male protagonists, but I do prefer a female protagonist.

wolf among usindexingI know I said I wouldn’t do anything that had its own book connected to it, but I lied.  Fables: Wolf Among Us is, of course, based on the Fables graphic novels by Bill Willingham.  So, if you want the actual source material, that’s the place to go.  But, if what you’re attracted to is the concept of fairy tales blending into the modern world than you cannot go wrong with Indexing by Seanan McGuire.  Bigby Wolf is the Big Bad Wolf turned P.I. in Fables whereas Indexing is more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. meets the Brothers Grimm, but they’re both about fairy tale characters trying to make it in the real world and the people who have to clean up after them.  (Once again, Indexing has a female protagonist, which makes me happy.)

borderlandsgone away worldOk, bear with me on this one.  Borderlands is about a little hellhole of a planet and a treasure hunt.  Gone Away World takes place on Earth both before and after an apocalypse of both epic proportions and completely insane results.  On the surface, there isn’t a whole lot to connect them, but under that there is a sensibility that, I think, is shared.  I can’t exactly explain it, but I’d say if the insanity of vault hunters, Mad Moxxie, and random crazy enemies roaming the desert is your sort of thing, you should definitely give Gone Away World a read.  There are mimes, wars, martial arts, and the toxic ooze that is left over after the Go Away War that endangers all life on Earth.  It’s pretty amazing.

mass efecthonorMass Effect… What can I say about Mass Effect?  Ending of the trilogy aside, it’s been amazingly formative on my gaming career.  Mass Effect was the first AAA game I ever completed.  (Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness was the first game I ever finished at all.)  Mass Effect is the ultimate heroe’s journey, and actually maps fairly well onto epic fantasy, but I like to stay at least vaguely in the same genre, so we turn to space books!  I played with femShep (who saw that coming?), so it’s not surprising that both my book recommendations have female protagonists.  I also just don’t read that much space opera, so there’s also that.  The first series that springs to mind is David Weber’s Honor Harrington series.  Honor is a fleet captain who continually has to take on enemies that she and her ship aren’t really equipped to handle.  Like Shepherd, this doesn’t always make her terribly popular with the higher-ups.  But Honor has a strong sense of duty and morality that carries her through, even in the face of certain destruction.  If you played Shepherd as a renegade, this narrative might not appeal to you as much.
ghostThe next book that springs to mind is John Scalzi’s Ghost Brigades (the second in his Old Man’s War series).  I picked this one rather than Old Man’s War, because the protagonist, Jared, is part of the Ghost Brigades, the super-Fridayelite of the CDF military.  He’s the closest thing to a Spector (Shepherd’s extra-legal status) that I’ve encountered.  He doesn’t act alone the way Shepherd does, but he’s the best of the best.
The third book that I thought of is a more tenuous connection, but also a perennial favorite; Friday by Robert Heinlein.  Friday isn’t a soldier, as such, although she’s done some time as a merc.  She is, instead, a courier, which means she has to do a little bit of everything in order to make sure her package gets delivered.  As such, she’s soldier, assassin, hacker, spy; whatever it takes.  (Although, I’m pretty sure she can dance better than Shepherd can.)

banner sagaeatersThe Banner Saga is a turn-based strategy game that’s set in a Viking-inspired fantasy setting.  There are friendly giants and monsters from the darkness.  It was a Kickstarted game that came out fairly recently.  And it’s kind of crazy beautiful.  The art style is pretty heavily influenced by the Rankin and Bass animation on things like The Hobbit.  I read surprisingly little Viking fiction, but I immediately thought of Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton.  This is the work that The 13th Warrior was based on.  There’s nothing better for Vikings facing unspeakable horror.

This is getting pretty long, so I’ll end it there.  I’ve got more, so if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll do a second post.  Are there any video game to other media associations that you’ve made?  Books?  TV shows and movies?  Music?  Let me know!

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