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Wine and cheese. Dinner and a movie, sure. But have you ever thought of pairing a book with a video game? If you, like me, played far too many games while quarantining, you might have noticed some similarities between your favorite RPGs and treasured novels, be they thematically, structurally, or visually. Below you’ll find a list of books for children, teens, and adults that just might interest avid gamers, especially when the novel mirrors a video game they already know and love.
Journey. Thatgamecompany and Santa Monica Studio. 2012.
Journey. By Aaron Becker. Illus. by the author. 2013. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763660536). Gr. 1–4.
Lost and Found. By JiWon Beck. Illus. by the author. 2019. Peter Pauper, $16.99 (9781441331861). PreS–Gr. 2.
The less you know about Journey (the game), the more moving your experience will be with it. Suffice to say that it is a wordless expedition—even the tutorial lacks written instructions—and players embody a robed traveler who explores abandoned, ancient ruins and vast, hauntingly desolate deserts. This indie game’s speechless storytelling and gorgeous artwork pairs well with two wordless picture books: Journey, which follows a young, white girl as she escapes into an imaginative fantasy realm, and Lost and Found, wherein a Native Alaskan girl and a polar bear weather stunning Arctic landscapes together.
King’s Quest. Sierra Entertainment and The Odd Gentleman. 2015.
Kill the Farm Boy. By Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne. 2018. Del Rey, $27 (9781524797744).
In King’s Quest, a reboot of the beloved PC adventure series, Graham (voiced by Christopher Lloyd!) recounts how he became king of Daventry, resulting in a tale filled with punny dialogue, beautiful hand-painted scenes, and clever puzzles. Kill the Farm Boy similarly tackles the fantasy genre through irreverent humor and subverted fairy-tale tropes, meaning the Kingdom of Pell will surely fill the Daventry-shaped holes in some gamers’ hearts. Both also include Princess Bride allusions! The villain in King’s Quest (voiced by Wallace Shawn!) challenges Graham to a duel of wits, and Kill the Farm Boy’s Worstley is surely a parody of our sweet Westley.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits. Ember Lab. 2021.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. By Julie C. Dao. 2017. Philomel, $18.99 (9781524738297). Gr. 9–12.
Acting as Kena, a young spirit guide, players escort the deceased to the afterworld and restore a local village to its lush, green splendor. Ever since Kena’s trailer debuted, people have compared the polished graphics, gutsy protagonist, and enchanting story to those in Disney movies, which makes this newly released action-adventure fantasy such a fun juxtaposition with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Unlike heroic Kena, Xifeng—destined to become the Evil Queen—is the villain in this East Asian retelling of Snow White, and though the young women’s personalities are as different as can be, both traverse dark, dangerous, and mystical forests.
The Sexy Brutale. Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works. 2017.
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. By Stuart Turton. 2018. Sourcebooks/Landmark, $25.99 (9781492657965).
The Sexy Brutale is set in a glamorous casino mansion during a masquerade, wherein a marquis’ party guests, who look like Funko Pop! characters, are being murdered one by one. The players take on the role of a preacher stuck in a 12-hour time loop who uses magical masks to prevent his friends’ deaths. Both the lavish English-mansion setting and the nonlinear storytelling of this puzzle adventure game mirror the high-concept mystery found in The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. The narrator, Aiden Bishop, is likewise stuck in a time loop, reliving the same party in eight different bodies, and a mysterious masked “Plague Doctor” tasks him with solving Evelyn’s murder.
Detroit: Become Human. Quantic Dream and Sony Interactive Entertainment. 2018.
Klara and the Sun. By Kazuo Ishiguro. 2021. Knopf, $27.95 (9780593318171).
Set in the near future, Detroit: Become Human—a narrative-driven, choice-based game—follows the lives of three androids: Markus, the leader of the android revolution; Connor, a detective who investigates “deviant” androids; and Kara, a housekeeper. Both Kara and Ishiguro’s Klara (even the names are similar!) begin their journeys in an android store. They then dedicate their lives to their young charges: Kara is on the run with Alice after rescuing the girl from her abusive father, and Klara, an AF—or, Artificial Friend—looks after sickly Josie. Through Klara, the much-decorated, widely acclaimed Ishiguro masterfully philosophizes about humanity while Kara’s journey into sentience can be heartbreaking or hopeful, depending on the decisions a player makes.
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