Gaming the Book

Forget reading Dante–now you can be Dante! For the investment of a few dollars you, too, can descend into hell as a hunky Florentine hacking and scything your way through all Nine Circles to rescue Beatrice. Dante’s Inferno, brought to you by Visceral Games, will familiarize you with hell’s topography (you never know when that might come in handy) as well as plant some choice quotes in your brain, for Virgil will be your voice-over guide.

It sounds like fun. So does The Great Gatsby game, though more sedate. In this one, players progress from the rooms of Gatsby’s fabulous East Egg house and his terraced yard to Wilson’s garage, pointing and clicking and collecting enough points to decorate your own fabulous house while working through the plot. What, no kick-boxing or first-person shooting? Who hasn’t felt like knocking off Tom Buchanan, or at least knocking him in the head?

Classic literature is rich with gaming possibilities, I suppose: several years ago my son had an idea for a To Kill A Mockingbird, where the object is (if I remember correctly) to find Boo Radley or else make him come out of his house. The Middle of Somewhere (that’s my latest book) would work perfectly as a video game: as the player progresses through Kansas, he has to prevent Gee from killing himself in various ways. If Gee hits the pavement, then SPLAT!–it’s back to Partly, MO and starting all over again with the squirrel in the toilet.

As for Dante: imagine the scores of college sophomores who can now pass their world lit course by skimming The Inferno’s expanded table of contents and reaching level 9 of the game. Imagine the possibilities for Beowulf (already a game, I’ll bet), Canterbury Tales and Macbeth!

I really have nothing against a video game based on The Inferno, as long as no one confuses it with The Inferno. Games based on novels may not be that different from the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the eighties and I hear are making a comeback. We checked out a few of those from the library years ago, but their appeal faded quickly. CYOA is to literature as chicken nuggets are to coq au vin. What does bother me a bit is talk of “interactive” literature, which sounds like an electronic version of CYOA. Choosing between fleeing or fighting has no relevance in a universe that consists only of choice. In the real world (ahem), we make choices, but choices also make us. That’s one value of reading good fiction: seeing the consequences of a character’s choices, and how they affect other characters.

 Such decisions are not interchangeable. Good characters sink their roots into the narrative–to jerk them around rips up the story. Good characters have to be themselves–if the reader barges in and starts rearranging their lives, they start being something else. Like props. The eventual consequences for real life are dismal to contemplate.


One Response to “Gaming the Book”

  1. Mary Nida Smith Says:

    J.B., I am glad to find your website and blog. I enjoyed both and your son’s neat work. Sorry, we were unable to attend the last OWAIC meeting. I hate it when I have to miss.

    Mary Nida Smith

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