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The 10 Best Games Based On Books

And seven runners-up too

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Honourable mentions

There are many other games I could have included, but only a few I’d really have wanted to. These are those.

BioShock

[official site]

Irrational’s art deco shooter was inspired by the writings, and repudiations, of controversial novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. In particular, names and themes from her novel Atlas Shrugged are used liberally throughout. I didn’t put it in the main list purely because it’s more a discussion of ideas than an attempt to digitally recreate the world of a novel, and because its own story very much becomes its own story (and eventually even more so, in the wake of BioShock: Infinite). But in the broader category of literary- or philosophy-inspired mainstream games, BioShock would be somewhere very near the top.

The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth

[official site]

It’s based upon the Bible, the title referring to the tale of Abraham (perhaps the Old Testament’s most overt statement that God was initially a right old bastard), but the absurdly popular roguelike/twin-stick shooter is more about what fervent religious belief can do to someone than it is recreating Christian tales. Given there’s something of a dearth of religious discussion in games, its Catholic guilt and anger is fascinating, however, though the exploration is arguably subsumed by all the poo-shooting and obsessive completism.

The Old Man Club

[official site]

As fine a tribute to and lampooning of Ernest Hemingway, particularly his machismo celebration The Old Man And The Sea, as exists in games. Possibly the only one, in fact.

I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream

[no official site; here’s Wikipedia]

A horrifying and brutal point and click adventure game based on short story by Harlan Ellison. Everyone remembers its name, and everyone remembers how unpleasant it was, but I’m not sure anyone really, truly wants to replay it now.

The Hobbit

[no official site, so here’s Wikipedia]

Another Tolkien game, this one of uncommon ambition, and on paper a damned impressive concept even today. This semi-graphical but primarily textual adventure sits alongside the the plot of The Hobbit, and for many of us was perhaps a more meaningful, memorable introduction to Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin than the book was (let us not mention the recent films). In fact, it probably was our introduction to them, given that the game originally shipped with a copy of the novel. Playing out in real-time with entirely unpredictable outcomes, and boasting a surprisingly involved physics system – all of which accessed by typing in words and phrases – it was doing emergent gaming long before anyone knew what that meant. It’s another of those beautiful paradigms of a time before genre and before marketing. As landmark as they come, though a bit of a struggle to play today.

Spec Ops: The Line

[official site]

Heavily inspired by Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness (and, of course, Coppola’s movie adaptation Apocalypse Now), though nothing like a direct adaptation, Spec Ops is an often unflinching examination of the horrifying side of war, rather than the usual celebration of a fictional soldier’s heroism. It earned itself a great deal of praise for its rare willingness to explore subject matter games traditionally hand-wave away, but underneath all that it’s a fairly routine third-person shooter with a high body count, which arguably does some harm to the message it attempts to convey. Or props it up, some might say.

The Great Gatsby

[official site]

If F. Scott Fitzgerald made NES games….

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