A lot of you might be thinking… how could video games and books be mixed? How could a medium that depends on bodily senses through graphics, audio and gameplay, be translated to one that focuses on the internal and subjective?
Surprisingly, a new literary genre of novels have started to gain popularity. Calling itself GameLit and LitRPGs, it tells the stories of heroic gamers battling it out in their favorite video games, using virtual reality situations, in oftentimes life-threatening conflicts. These literary works have shown us just how much the world has been captivated by video games and gaming culture in general. And how much we gamers can become badasses ourselves.
Some of these novels are probably familiar to you, while others deserve more recognition that they truly deserve. So let’s take a break from our keyboards and controllers, grab an earl grey, turn on your desk lamps, and let’s go on a reading adventure.
Note: While GameLit and LitRPGs can be used interchangeably, the main difference is that LitRPG focuses on role-playing elements, while GameLit is lighter on the mechanics and easier to follow.
5. Catharsis (Awaken Online #1)
Let’s start off the list with the most successful self-published GameLit title all time. With over 886 reviews on Goodreads and a constant best-seller back in 2016, Catharsis tells the story of a young gamer named Jason, a lonely loser with no friends and a strict family. His only source of happiness is being inside a virtual reality game, Awaken Online, where he would immerse himself in a world filled with magic, gods and fantasy cities. But on one faithful playthrough, things didn’t go well as expected.
What made Catharsis such an amazing read is its theme getting progressively darker in every chapter. The book deals well with video game addiction and the dangers of escapism, as Jason slowly drags himself deeper and deeper, becoming the villain of his own video game in the process. It also shows us gamers the trouble and problems that we all have to go through for our subculture, from prejudice, hatred, and finally, stereotyping. Every gamer out there would relate to the story of Jason, as he fights demons within the game and within himself.
A book written by an Irish novelist (and no… its not Eoin Colfer), the novel Epic stars a little boy named Erik Haraldson and his adventures playing a supposedly innocent swashbuckling virtual reality MMORPG game called Epic. The story can be a bit confusing in the beginning, but as the tale progresses, we see our young boy achieve great stuff as he avenges his parents and fight the evil corporation known as the Central Allocations. It ends with Erik finally confronting the dreaded monster of this virtual reality world, a being known only as the Red Dragon.
As a testament of how good it is, the novel Epic garnered awards such as the Children’s Book Award in 2005, International Board on Books for Young People in 2006, and the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year in 2007. Unlike others in this list, this one has a more lighthearted and fun touch that is perfect for schools and young children. Think of it as Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, but instead of fantasy heroes, our protagonist is a gamer.
3. Escapist Dream
Of all GameLit books in history, none is as grand in scale as this one-of-a kind novel. In the virtual reality world known as the Escapist Dream; visitors can use superpowers and extraordinary abilities to fight NPCs and themselves. It’s a genre-busting world where comic book geeks can become superheroes, anime otakus can finally have their own waifus, and of course, where gamers can finally live their lives as real video game characters. They can use the superpowers of their favorite fictional characters, or their own, to fight each other in brutal battles and duels.
In its portrayal of gaming culture, author Louis Bulaong really nailed every trope from video games and the gaming community in general. While the story praises the talents gamers possess, it also satirizes many of gaming culture’s funniest quirks, from trash-talking, using cheats, the console wars, and to the “war against microtransactions”. It has tons of gaming references from Halo to even Projared. The story has probably the funniest GameLit character of all time too – a female Korean gamer named The Wiz; a champion player inside the Escapist Dream, and one who can actually control gameplay such as platforming and bullet-timing. Seeing this book portray gamers as the fun-loving and talented people makes it stand amongst the rest.
2. Sword Art Online
Probably one of the most popular and also most controversial in this list, is the light novel series from acclaimed sci-fi author Reki Kawahara. Although most of you are more familiar with the anime adaptation, the novel Sword Art Online follows the same story of a highly-talented gamer named Kirito as he tries to survive in the virtual reality world called Sword Art Online, after its creator went mad and trapped them all inside. His fight for survival was made difficult by the fact that he was a previous beta tester and “cheater”, essentially turning him into an outcast.
Sword Art Online’s anime adaptation continues to this day, while also producing films and video game adaptations. The franchise .hack may have been the first to popularize this kind of premise in Japan, but there’s no doubt that Sword Art Online popularized it through the use of more modern MMORPG similar to what gamers play today. It certainly became the trope codifier of MMORPGs going insane.
1. Ready Player One
Before this story became the Stephen Spielberg masterpiece that it is, Ready Player One started off as a novel written by Ernest Cline. Although not as grand in scope as the movie, Ready Player One was just as intriguing and adrenaline-rushing as its live-action adaptation.
Ready Player One takes place in a futuristic dystopian where everything is… you guessed it… kinda sucks. Economy is down, people are unemployed and there’s a high level of corporate crime and corruption going on. The protagonist, Wade Watts, gets the opportunity to escape the problems of real life through a virtual reality world known as OASIS; a world that has its own crypto-currency economy far better than the real world. The founder of OASIS however, left the players a challenge in which the prize is the whole game itself. After that well… shenanigans ensued.
What made the novel great is its use of nostalgia. Unlike other GameLit stories which focused on MMORPG, Ready Player One uses retro-arcade-gaming as its themes. In a futuristic world that is as cynical and depressing as our own, tokens from the past becomes a way for people to appreciate how fun and simple life was back then. Cline did well in researching retro popular culture to make this story; a book which would eventually become the greatest GameLit novel of all time.