Archive for January 25th, 2011

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Have Game Tie-In Novels Gotten Better?

January 25, 2011

I’ve been reading a lot recently. I take my Kindle everywhere — I read during lunch, I read before bed, and thanks to handy mobile apps I’m also reading on-the-go while walking the dog or waiting in line at the grocery store. I even read when I’m playing games at my PC during loading screens. This has led to a flurry of activity on my Goodreads page, so I’ve been talking books with my friends a little more than usual as of late.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of reading Mass Effect: Revelation, and expressed my thoughts of it in an overall positive review. I was a little surprised at how much I liked it; after all, the book had been on my to-read list for many months and I’d been putting it off in favor of other stuff I wanted to read more. Revelation is a pretty short novel, and I was planning on saving it for when I needed a light and casual read. When it turned out being better than I thought, a discussion with Blue Kae resulted, and we both agreed that for some reason game tie-in novels seem to have gotten a lot better in the last couple of years.

That isn’t to say that I think all video game novels have become literary masterpieces overnight, because certainly things have still been pretty much hit or miss for me. Still, I too get the sense that the bar has been raised. I think part of it has to do with better authors penning these types of novels, but I also wonder if the nature of games coming out nowadays makes a difference. In the last few years, we’ve seen games — single-player and MMOs alike — put a lot more emphasis and importance on lore and storytelling, perhaps making the novels based on them simply that much more interesting and enjoyable to read?

I’ve been pondering this, especially since Revelation is such a good example. Not only are the Mass Effect games powerfully story-driven, in my opinion the awesomeness of their gameplay is only rivaled by the incredible feat of world building the Bioware team has managed to pull off. It probably helped that the author Drew Karpyshyn is the writer for the game too, and a great storyteller (his Star Wars: Darth Bane books can attest to that as well).

Still, even the best writing wouldn’t matter if you can’t make someone care enough to pick up the book. What amazes me is that so many people are drawn to Revelation and the other Mass Effect novels in the first place, and find that they enjoy them…even though Revelation makes no mention of Shepard — the ultimate badass who is THE face of Mass Effect — or even any of his companions from either game. Some games are so immersive now that lorehounds are finding just as much enjoyment out of a prequel or a background story about a secondary character. Revelation, for example, tells the story of Anderson and how he almost became a Spectre. If you ever wondered about that from the first Mass Effect game (I know I did), this book has all the details.

On the whole, I think game tie-in novels are getting better and better, but I still don’t know if I’d approach them the same way I would with other fiction, and admittedly there’s probably always going to be a part of me that will remind myself “I’m reading a book based on a video game.” Despite that, it’s uplifting to see the good reviews some of these novels have gotten, and how more books based on video games seem to be able to stand on their own as general sci-fi or fantasy, that even non-gamers can enjoy.

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