The wikipedia category of “Video Games Based on Novels” is surprisingly sparse. Aside from some obvious standouts (I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and the shadow of Tom Clancy’s post-humous media empire are a few choice examples), this category of game tends to be filled with high fantasy role-playing titles which can be easily translated from multi-book series written in the eighties and nineties with names like “The CandleSword Chronicles”. In Japan, there are a couple series which most people don’t even know have literary origins: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei and Parasite Eve, for example, are based on sci-fi novels.
This begs the question - which unmined resources of narrative gold and creative inspiration exist out there in the library stacks, waiting like uncut gems to be plucked by the hands of game developers? I’ve prepared a small list.
1. Samuel Beckett - Waiting For Godot
Some clips of Death Stranding give me Beckett vibes. Maybe it was the idea of Norman Reedus’ character busting his ass to deliver a package in the midst of an empty, reciever-and-sender-less landscape where his efforts are likely fruitless (like a sort of Sisyphus who needs to ask for your digital signature before he can push the boulder back up the hill). It’s all existential and absurd, like Beckett’s work is often characterized as. Kojima has referenced literature in his work before, so maybe this isn’t that drastic of a comparison.
Waiting for Godot would be a fucking sick game. The interactive medium lends itself extraordinarily well to this kind of experience; imagine if you really have to wait for Godot to arrive, walking around the small stage, engaging in mundane tasks like taking your shoes on and off to proceed through the game. The game could be co-op, with a player controlling each of the two protagonists of the play. You would feel that existentiality because interactivity would force you to. Maybe not a fun game, but definitely a cool idea!
2. Virgil - The Aeneid
This game would fucking rip. The Odyssey already suffered from a failed video-game adaptation back in 2000, so I’m sparing it from this list and going after its Roman counterpart. An ancient poem which provided a foundation myth for Rome, it describes the escape of Aeneas from Troy following the legendary Trojan war and his subsequent journey towards setting in motion the series of events which would lead to Rome’s founding. Doesn’t that sound like an action RPG? Travelling across a vast mediterranean open world filled with mythological beasts. Getting into city management towards the end of the campaign, and having that lead into a post-story mode that plays sort of like Civilization. It would be like AC: Odyssey, but Roman. Cool.
3. Virginia Woolf - Mrs. Dalloway
This one seems like more of a stretch than the others, but hear me out. DONTNOD’s Life Is Strange games showed the potential of purely narrative slice-of-life experiences on an interactive medium. However, each instalment has (so far) told a story from a single perspective. Mrs. Dalloway is an incredible read partly because it features “free indirect discourse” so heavily (crudely put, this is when the author seamlessly transitions between multiple perspectives in a story in a stream-of-consciousness third person narrative). Free indirect discourse would be awesome if implemented properly into a DONTNOD style game. Switching between the perspective of multiple protagonists, hearing their thoughts, and having all of their narratives find a mutual resolution by the end of the game would be cool as hell. Not to mention that post-world-war England is an under-utilized game setting.
A looter-shooter based on the Bible would be sick too, lol!