Read the Games, Play the Books: Video Game Adaptations of Literary Works

May 7, 2019 | Karl

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Nowadays, a great deal of the media we consume has already existed in one form or another. You have probably noticed the recent influx of comic book-to-movie adaptations (see: Marvel and DC). What is probably seen or noticed less often is when video games are actually inspired by literary works. There is something especially magical about being able to explore an author's worlds and interact with their characters outside of our own imagination. We all definitely owe a big, hearty thanks to these game developers (read: wizards) who decided to poke their noses into books. Here are a few pairings worth a read and play!

The Divine Comedy and Dante’s Inferno

The divine comedy

Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s poem La Divina Commedia or The Divine Comedy is considered one of the greatest literary works in existence. The video game adaptation of The Divine Comedy from Visceral Games aptly titled Dante’s Inferno tries its best to borrow from that source material, at least in terms of character and location names. The game’s main character Dante still traverses the nine circles of hell, but does so as a scythe-wielding crusader in a brutal and bloodier manner than what you might have expected. The original poem was a tour of hell, this is a little more “interactive”. And if you’re wondering about the particulars such as why Dante has a scythe or more specifically, the Grim Reaper’s iconic scythe, it’s actually pretty simple – Dante kills Death pretty early in the game. No big deal?

Where the game shines (maybe “oozes” would be more appropriate here) as an adaptation is in its wonderfully chilling visuals. During your six-hour romp through Hell, you are in for such fantastical sights as enormous teeth-worms and the hungry, hungry demons of Gluttony in the third circle of Hell. For the purpose of bringing to life these horrors which live between the lines of Alighieri’s original masterpiece, Visceral Games hired author and illustrator Wayne Barlowe who had previously worked on his own The Divine Comedy-inspired book, Barlowe’s Inferno. The results are the beautifully rendered (for its time), hellish environments of Dante’s Inferno.


Metro 2033 and Metro 2033

Cover image of Metro 2033

Metro 2033 Game Cover.jpg

The novel Metro 2033, written by Russian novelist Dmitry Glukhovsky in 2002, is set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by a global nuclear war (there is definitely a lot of these floating around but bear with me please). This nationwide and worldwide bestseller was told through the perspective of a 24-year-old named Artyom as he journeys through the underground metro stations of Moscow where survivors have taken refuge.  The video game adaptation by 4A Games sticks to the script for the most part, with story and characters remaining mostly the same, except for special cases like the young ranger Danila, who is actually a hybrid of two characters from the book.

The game also succeeds fairly well in going beyond what the book has to offer in terms of helping the reader-player visualize the scene underground. While Glukhovsky might have presented more of the stations, the game does an excellent job of making each and every station stand out in its own unique way. From the bright lights of Polis to the more weathered, battered-looking stations like Riga (though admittedly, everywhere’s a little worse for wear in Artyom’s world). While the book doesn’t do a “bad” job of portraying the differences between stations, it’s a very different and worthwhile experience altogether exploring the personalities of these stations in-game.

The Witcher Series and The Witcher

Cover image of The last wish

Image result for witcher game cover

The Witcher is a series of fantasy stories penned by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski set on "the Continent". The protagonist of the series is Geralt of Rivia who just happens to be a "witcher", or monster hunter (quite the exciting profession if you ask me). The rest of the world is Tolkienesque, from the elves and dwarves to the never-ending wars which seem to inevitably erupt between them. The game of the same name created by CD Projekt Red does a remarkable job of staying faithful to that source material. The atmosphere created by the game’s soundtrack and in-game environments feel as though pulled straight from the pages of Sapkowski's books, and the characters appear and sound as a readers might have hoped they would.

This might just be nit-picking, but one could point to Geralt as the main discrepancy between the game and novels. He is described as “lanky” and “slim” by Sapkowski but is quite buff in-game. The version of Geralt in the game is also very capable of besting quite possibly anyone in his world given the right conditions, while his counterpart seems to suffer more losses than one might expect from the titular protagonist. To be fair, these differences probably stem from the developers wanting to create a seemingly stronger, more dependable sort of hero who players might want to embody while playing The Witcher.


More book-to-game titles for your consideration:

Cover image of Parasite Eve   Cover image of I have no mouth, and I must scream

Book cover of Atlas shrugged   Cover image of Edgar Allen Poe's The tell-tale heart

Cover image of Alamut   Book cover of Neuromancer

Cover image of Heart of darkness   Cover image of The romance of the three kingdoms

Can you connect these novels to their video game counterparts? Do you have your own book-game pairing to recommend? Let us know in the comments below!