Books and video games. Once thought mortal enemies now the strangest of bedfellows. Decried in the 1980s as literacy kryptonite (“That Pac Man Invader Kong will rot your brain!”), it’s now common for libraries to check video games and books out alongside one another and for literature to find new life rendered in pixels and boss fights.
Of course some contemporary best-sellers seem practically written to pirouette easily into games (Katniss Everdeen did not fight in The Hunger Meditations), but how about novels written decades before Pong? How about novels with the cultural baggage and crappy memories of being forced on you in 10th-grade English?
They’ve got game too. Here are our favorite video game adaptations of works of classic literature. We may still be waiting to play I Know Why The Caged Bird Kills Zombies or Waiting For Godot: The First Person Shooter. But in the meantime, we’ve got gems by Fitzgerald, Hugo, Bradbury, and Austen.
Ready, player one?
Before humankind discovered fire, a run of popular video games were text only, no graphics. The Mozart of creating these games was Infocom, a company in Cambridge, Mass., made up of O.G. nerds from MIT. Small wonder then, when the money started rolling, that they licensed a nerd talmudic text like Hitchhiker’s to make “Don’t Panic” playable.
Enemies: A wicked hangover, impending bulldozers, intergalactic bureaucrats known as Vogons.
Weaponry: Famous for having puzzles so complicated they required a dozen unrelated objects to solve, Infocom eventually sold T-shirts emblazoned with “I Got The Babblefish!” because no one could figure solve the damn Babblefish puzzle (the answer involves a towel, a dressing gown, and a pile of junk mail).
Can I Play It? The BBC put a free, illustrated version online to celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary.
2. Fahrenheit 451 (1984)
Mostly text and a few graphics, and set five years after the novel concludes, protagonist Guy Montag is now an agent for the Literary Underground, whose sentries speak to one another in quotes from great books. His mission: break into the New York Public Library where illegal books have been transferred to micro cassette (Hey, it was 1984!) and upload them to the Undergrounds’ Information Network.
Ray Bradbury collaborated with the game’s designers on the script. Carisse McClellan is back as Montag’s partner in crime. There’s also a super intelligent computer named (what else?) RAY.
Enemies: Fireman, 451 Patrols, Electric Hounds.
Weaponry: A lighter called “The Flame of Knowledge.”
Can I Play It? You can download it here, then find a Commodore 64 or make your computer impersonate one.
Dr. Jekyll is on his way to his wedding, but the citizens of London keep getting in his way! When he gets angry enough and transforms into Mr. Hyde, said citizens are now demons and monsters.
Enemies: Stray cats, dumb pedestrians, pink gentlemen leaving bombs around. All who become demons and monsters.
Can I Play It? So it would seem.
Our hero falls asleep in school and dreams he must rescue Becky Thatcher (bearing more than passing resemblance to Mario’s girlfriend Princess Peach) from the dastardly “Injun Joe” who has kidnapped her.
Warning: The Japanese version contains even more racist caricatures than the American version.
Enemies: Logs, rats, octopi, you name it. (Real answer is probably “Whatever the animators could draw.” )
Weapons: Unclear. They look like rocks but could just as easily be Magic 8 Balls or lumps of cookie dough. Oh, and a straw hat of invincibility.
Can I Play It? Sure, but first you’ve got to paint this fence.
Created by Christian video game publisher Wisdom Tree, Bible Adventures contains three adventures (Noah’s Ark, baby Moses, and David and Goliath) broken up by onscreen chunks of scripture. Made few “Worst Games of All Time” lists, sold several hundred thousand copies.
Enemies: Beasts, Egyptian soldiers, and assorted sinners.
Weapons: Noah’s Ark and baby Moses are all about herding animals and carrying the little guy across Egypt. David gets acorns and a slingshot.
Can I Play It? With 350,000 units reportedly sold, you most certainly can, if you have a Nintendo Entertainment System and can find someone who still has their cartridge.
5. Arm Joe (Les Misérables Fighting Game) (1998)
Picture Street Fighter with the characters from Victor Hugo’s epic novel rendered with big Manga eyes and you’ve got Arm Joe (a phonetic spelling of Aa Muju, the title of Les Misérables in Japanese). Essentially low-rent fan fiction, except you make Fantine and Javert kick each other’s asses instead of make out.
Enemies: Whomever you square off against.
Weaponry: Mostly hand-to-hand with some weird supernatural business (Eponine can launch smoke bombs from her wrists). Enjolras carries a musket.
Can I Play It? You can download it here, but it’ll only play if you’ve got a Windows 98 box handy.
Developer Visceral Games received a whole heap of bad press for using Dante’s epic poem to create a knockoff of the immensely popular God of War (2005). But if a trip to hell and the chance to murder everything that torments you on the way down sounds like fun, then on with it.
Your character is named Dante for some uncreative reason.
Enemies: Every tormented soul in the underworld including (sigh) the souls of aborted babies and Death himself.
Weaponry: Death’s scythe, a “Holy Cross” that fires projectiles every which way. You can also “punish” or “absolve” your enemies, which, as your character gets stronger, determines if they become holy or evil.
Can I Play It? Released for Xbox 360 and PS3.
7. The Great Gatsby (2010)
Welcome to Wild West Egg. This Jazz Age by way of Nintendo has you playing as Nick Carroway collecting martinis for points, dodging falling chandeliers, and looking for “hidden objects” we’re pretty sure are code for the American dream.
Enemies: Snotty butlers, dancing flappers, drunken revelers.
Weapons: Your fedora, flung like a boomerang.
Can I Play It? Online, for free at greatgatsbygame.com.
8. Ever, Jane (2014 and beyond)
A former engineer for Second Life, Judy L. Tryer raised $100,000 last December via Kickstarter for Ever, Jane an online role-playing game set among the novels of Jane Austen. Top donors got estates named after them within the game and a hand knit shawl IRL.
Only in prototype so far, but this much we know: Balls and dinner parties are the fields of battle. Players power up by learning to dance, and aligning themselves with families on the social rise.
Enemies: Other families on the social rise.
Weapons: “Gossip is our weapon of choice.”
Sadness: The development team is still taking donations for a series of stretch goals, but one cannot receive crumpets and scones for any level of donation.