Nearly three years ago we posted an entry called 7 Video Games That Book Nerd Newbie Gamers Would Love, and I think that’s about standard time between the original and releasing a spiritual successor, wouldn’t you say?
Where our last post had a focus on those new to gaming (or looking to get into gaming), this list features a mix of game types, from walking simulators to FMV mystery, roleplaying game to something that tests your vocabulary. Some are more explicit in their connections to bookish themes, while others have fun wordplay and others would appeal to readers of certain genres/age categories.
Life Is Strange
Max Caulfield is a photography student who has suddenly discovered she has a unique ability: she can rewind (and manipulate) time. Now everything from undoing mistakes to helping friends to saving lives is at the touch of an outstretched hand, while in the distance looms an oncoming disaster that threatens the entire town.
If you enjoyed the choice system of Telltale games (such as The Walking Dead, or their recent Batman game) you will enjoy the similar system here. In Life is Strange, however, you can undo your choices immediately after making them, which can lead you to wondering if the choice was simply to let it go or not.
Why for the bookish? Life is Strange is basically a YA novel in video game format. So if you like YA novels – and especially ones that use a hint of scifi or fantasy to examine themes of friendship and the formation of identity – you’ll enjoy this one.
Set in 1989 (after the 1988 Yellowstone fires), Firewatch is the tale of Henry, who starts a job as a fire lookout after his wife’s early-onset dementia reaches a level of care that he struggled to survive. As he explores a beautifully-painted Shoshone National Forest, he encounters a mystery, a voice over the radio, and maybe even himself.
Why for the bookish? Firewatch is a physically isolated game, with only a handful of characters coming into Henry’s eyeline (and no closer). The character he mostly interacts with, Delilah, is simply a voice over the radio, and so writers and readers alike will appreciate the masterclass of characterisation through dialogue that is Firewatch.
Scribblenauts is a puzzle game with a difference: just about anything can solve the puzzle, as long as you have the imagination to come up with it. Want to fight orcs with Cthulu? Go ahead. My personal favourite is Scribblenauts Unmasked, where you can summon so many DC characters it’s ridiculous. Spoiler and Arm-Fall-Off-Boy team-up!
Why for the bookish? The wider your vocabulary and the bigger your imagination, the more the game will reward you. While you can solve things using the same answers, you get rewarded more for unique solutions, as well as combinations with adjectives.
Dragon Age II
I’m a big fan of the Dragon Age series, and I think anyone who likes fantasy fiction would enjoy the series. There’s role-playing, great companions, romance, and if you’re a fan of diversity (and who isn’t? Oh right. Arse-biscuits) each game gets progressively more diverse.
In the second game, Hawke (Garrett or Marion – you can customise gender, appearance, ethnicity, and over the course of the game personality) is a refugee fleeing Ferelden with their mother and younger twin siblings. Together with a bunch of misfits, they attempt to build a home in Kirkwall, look after their family, earn money, fight crime, and try not to start a war between Templars and mages. And maybe even fall in love.
Why for the bookish? Know the song Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? Well, in Dragon Age II the framing device is that your companion, Varric, is an author who wrote The Tale of the Champion about Hawke’s adventures. So when Cassandra
Allegra Portia Calogera Filomena Get-On-With-It Pentaghast arrives to find out the truth, Varric starts narrating the real story.
Maybe? After all, he’s not above a little creative embellishment. He is a writer.
Alan Wake is a game in the vein of Stephen King novels. A trip with his wife, Alice, to the small town of Bright Falls is supposed to help Alan relax enough to break his crippling writer’s block, but instead things get really bad when something drags Alice underneath the lake. Alan dives in after her… only to wake up in his car to find he’s missing a week and there are pages of a manuscript everywhere. Pages that describe things that have yet to come to pass.
Oh, and a darkness is taking over people, animals, and machines, and all are trying to kill Alan.
Why for the bookish? Aside from starring a writer, Alan Wake uses collectible pages to foreshadow events as well as describe events from outside Alan’s POV. It’s also a story about creativity in general, and how there are no short cuts to a happy ending. Plus it experiments with multiple forms of creativity, including music (performed by Poets of the Fall), poetry, and a TV show that’s clearly inspired by the Twilight Zone.
(My favourite? Absence of Creativity, about a writer with writer’s block.)
Contradiction: Spot the Liar!
In Contradiction, you take on the role of Inspector Frederick Jenks, who has come to the small English village of Edenton to investigate the apparent suicide of a young woman. This is a full-motion video game, meaning actors physically portray the characters rather than simply lending their voices. As such, it feels a lot more like an interactive movie or TV show than a ‘traditional’ video game.
Much like a point and click game, you travel around the map, finding clues and solving puzzles (to find more clues) which in turn triggers more conversation with suspects and witnesses. And then, when you think you have found a contradiction between two statements made by the same witness (e.g. “I was at home on Friday”, then later “I didn’t see her at the party on Friday”), Jenks can call them on it, triggering a new sequence with new information for Jenks to work with.
Why for the bookish? If Life is Strange is a YA novel in game form, Contradiction is a game for the mystery junkies out there. While there are basic elements of point-and-click problem solving, the main part of the gameplay is paying attention to dialogue to find where the lie is. This is a great game to play with friends as you bounce ideas and theories of whodunnit to each other.