Blake J. Harris's Console Wars is the riveting story of the competition between Nintendo and Sega, a battle that took years and determined the king of video games in the '90s. If you're a video game fan, you owe it to yourself to check it out. If, however, you're a book reader and are looking for some video games to try out, Harris has some suggestions for you...
A funny thing happened over the past few decades: videogames became about a lot more than just better graphics, bigger explosions and bippity-boppity children’s play. What elevated this new medium from style to substance is that very same ingredient that makes a book memorable or a movie re-watchable: story. A great story, of course, can be derived from many sources (compelling plots, indelible characters, inexplicably addictive otherwords, etc.), but I thought the best way to trace this evolution of videogames, would be provide a list of comparable artist flourishes between ten great books and videogames.
1. If you liked Johannes Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible, you might enjoy Pong…
Back in 1448, Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized the power and possibility of the written word with its publication of the 42-line Bible. Over three hundred years later, Nolan Bushnell’s Atari made a similar dent on the future of entertainment by releasing the first commercially successful home console. Although both innovations have been gradually swept aside by the winds of time, the historical significance of each is perpetually palpable.
2. If you liked George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, you might enjoy The Legend of Zelda…
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System
Action, adventure, and surprises around every corner! Like R.R. Martin’s masterpiece, this epic aura (plus unwieldy weapons and savage dragons!) flows through every screen in The Legend of Zelda. The beauty of each, however, goes beyond shared fantasy elements: it’s their ability to thrust forth memorably stoic heroes who fight with nobility in politically and emotionally complex feudal environments.
3. If you liked Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, you might enjoy ToeJam & Earl…
Console: Sega Genesis
The best videogames, just like the best books, are capable of transport you into fictional universes populated by unique characters, concepts and laws of physics. Although most early console games valued graphics and gameplay over mood and story, ToeJam & Earl is an early example that bucks this trend. From afar, this game about a pair of hip-hop aliens trying to get back to their home planet of Funkotron may seem misguidedly askew, but a catchy jazz-funk soundtrack and colorful side characters show how style, when done right, can elevate substance.
4. If you liked Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, you might enjoy NHL ’94…
Console: Sega Genesis
What I appreciated most about The Art of Fielding was how Harbach used the poetry of baseball to craft a story that appealed to an audience of everyone. NHL ’94, a 16-bit hockey game from the early 90s, pulls of a similar trick by offering an ode to the intricacies of this gracefully barbaric sport and granting its players the opportunity to quickly and consistently feel the visceral ups and downs of playing hockey.
5. If you liked Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, you might enjoy Grand Theft Auto…
Console: Sony PlayStation
It’s all about the id.
6. If you liked Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, you might enjoy Super Smash Bros…
Console: Nintendo 64
Long before Katniss Everdeen and those Careers from District 2 would fight to the death, there was a royal rumble in the mushroom kingdom that changed the videogame landscape forever. In this cutesy no-holds-barred battle, a handful of Nintendo’s most iconic characters step into the proverbial ring (in this case gorgeous cartoonish landscapes) and inflict damage upon one another. This title offered a unique opportunity to pit Mario against Luigi, Link against Kirby and Donkey Kong against Pikachu. The winner? Gamers everywhere.
7. If you liked Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, you might enjoy Bioshock…
Console: Xbox 360
BioShock is a first-person shooter with RPG elements in which players guide the game’s hero, Jack, through the underwater utopia-turned-disaster of Rapture. Much like Rand’s idealized Atlantis, Rapture was constructed by fictional business tycoon Andrew Ryan, in order to create an off-the-grid society for the world’s elite to flourish outside of government control. Unlike Rand’s work, however, the discovery of ADAM, a superpower-granting plasmid, demolished the city and set the stage for the whirlwind narrative that takes place within the game. Given the objectivist themes and the Galt-ish references to “Who is Atlas?” it’s hard not to wonder how Dagny Taggart would fare playing this videogame.
8. If you liked Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking World of Staggering Genius, you might enjoy Portal 2…
Console: PlayStation 3
Portal 2 is a first-person puzzle-platformer and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is most certainly not, but what makes both compelling is how they employ overly-indulgent uber-cleverness to create a fun, accessible esoteric world. At the center of both is an admiration for puzzles—both literal and metaphorical—and they both playfully challenge their audience to enjoy all the parts individually before stepping back to appreciate the sum.
9. If you liked Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might enjoy Candy Crush Saga…
Except for the lack of oompa loompas, it’s easier to imagine that Candy Crush Saga was created by none other than Willy Wonka himself. The game is bright, colorful and sweetness-obsessed, providing players with a hypnotic addition on their perpetual quests for Sugar Crushes. And yet as happy and gleeful as the game appears to be, there is a Wonka-esque smiley sinister lurking behind it all as players continually dole out “only 99 cents,” over and over to pay for extra lives. Wait a minute! Strike that and reverse it! It’s “only 99 cents” after all. A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men. Thank you, thank you!
10. If you liked Tim O’Briens The Things They Carried, you might enjoy Titanfall…
Console: Xbox One
The highlight of O’Brien’s incredible short story collection is undoubtedly “How to Tell a True War Story,” which presents the truth of war as a fragile, fickle and malleable thing. He posits that, in the end, the factual truth of a war story doesn’t matter so much as the emotional one the story creates, and that’s where the similarity with Titanfall comes into play. From a narrative perspective, the notion of players fighting a war in graphically-sophisticated mech-style exoskeletons (called “Titans”) may seem too over-the-top to be taken seriously, but the mile-a-minute feel of playing in this war-torn landscape, particularly when joined by eleven other players online, simulates many of the sensations that come from heated battle. Certainly a virtual war cannot compare to actual one, but this immersive new game at least grabs the torch from Tim O’Brien to deliver a new kind of digital truth that may not be real but, at least at the time, certainly is not fake.