I’m writing this during the height of the Scottish summer and while it might be raining outside, the gaming industry is dragging its heels through another annual dry spell. Given the tumultuous economic, political, and social state the world is in right no, the need for escapism is greater than ever.
So assuming we aren’t all consumed in nuclear fire before you read this (a big if), here’s five games you can take beyond the computer screen and into the world of books. Oh, and speaking from experience, if a cold-caller offers you and your family a place in an underground facility called a vault in the next few months, it might be less hassle to take your chances in a fridge freezer.
Filled with werewolves, vampires and eldritch truths, Bloodborne’s wicked tale is perhaps the most unapologetic, visceral homage to pulp and Lovecraftian horror ever conceived for a video game. At least for one which doesn't directly adapt Lovecraft’s work, such as the upcoming Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game (which looks great, by the way).
That’s not to say Bloodborne doesn’t have its own unique tricks, but if you’re still hungry for more existential dread and cosmic nightmares then get yourself a copy of the Necronomicon. It's not a complete compilation of Lovecraft’s work but it does feature some of his most ghastly goblins and ghouls.
If, however, you fancy something just a tad less dense and an inch more self aware, turn your attention to the collective works of Mike Mignola. It doesn’t really matter where you jump into the Mignolaverse but I’d recommend you start from the beginning, with Hellboy: Seed of Destruction.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Norse mythology is pretty hot right now. You’ve got Thor: Ragnarok coming out in October and God of War: Norse Edition coming out early next year. More recently, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice saw players delve deep into Helheim, the Norse underworld. If there’s a common thread running through all of these titles, it’s that Norse myth is just undeniably cool.
Those who want to know more about this topic could start with the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson but that was written in the early 13th century and is probably more than a little oblique. Or they could try the simply titled Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, a highly accessible introduction which takes readers from the creation of Ymir, the first giant, all the way to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
You’re probably aware that The Witcher games are sequels to the novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. If after the 200 hours of The Wild Hunt and its DLC didn't satisfy you, The Last Wish is the best entry point into the books, of which there are five novels (now six: a prequel was published in 2013, 14 years after the saga officially concluded) and two short story collections.
If you have had enough fantastical intrigue and monster slaying to last you a witcher’s lifetime, you might be interested to learn more about the folkloric stories that inspired Geralt’s quest, specifically the work of the Grimm brothers. In that case, check out Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales: For Young and Old. Here you’ll find the likes of Rapunzel, Snow White, and Cinderella retold in Pullman’s award-winning prose.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
As a review in The Sunday Times once said, "The English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them." If you fall into the latter camp, here’s a quick reminder that every fantasy game you’ve ever played owes its existence to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.
If you find yourself in the former camp, however, and the wait for Middle-earth: Shadow of War is proving too difficult, why not check out what contemporary fantasy has to offer? The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch follows a lowly orphan as he becomes the infamous Thorn of Camorr, the fastest, deadliest, most cunning thief the Venetian city has ever seen. Or so they say. Similar to that is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, another fantastical coming-of-age story and a modern masterpiece.
The Last of Us
A man, brooding and bearded, leads his young son through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The road they walk is long and desolate. The world around them is dead and wilting. There is no hope for the future, only survival. Yet there is a kind of raw beauty to be found here, a dark romanticism in this tale of love and desperation. If this brief description of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road sounds a lot like The Last of Us, that’s because it is.
But there’s no zombies. For that, look to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. Brilliantly, the rise of the living dead is told through a series of harrowing first-hand accounts which lend the story a portent verisimilitude. It’s worth pointing out that both of these books have been made into films. Except the big screen adaptation of World War Z is similar in name only.
So there you have it. What games got you reading? Leave a comment!