Video games and fiction

In the collective imagination, nothing would be further from the avid reader and video game player – except perhaps the common myopia. One can personify culture with a capital C, and the other, at best, a somewhat reactionary form of playful curiosity, or at worst, the darker temptations of gratuitous and irrational violence. However…

However, far from these worn-out clichés (the average age of gamers in France is 39, 78% of whom say they’ve read books according to the SELL/Médiamétrie study, 2020), these two worlds keep getting closer. Even today, to the point of feeding each other. As if, unlike the massive economic and cultural weight of video games in France and around the world (about $200 billion according to the specialist site newzoo.com), there has been a return to an essential aspect of entertainment: narrative, and that narrative art that builds it. Tell me what you play, I’ll tell you what to read; Tell me what you read, I’ll tell you what you play …

But talking about video games as a whole is as absurd as talking about music in general, as video game products have diversified. “Small” games like TetrisAnd the a snake where candy crush, nor competitive games that are restricted by the necessity of live broadcasting in short game format. Rather, it will be a matter of more complex productions, the budgets of which today reach several hundred million dollars. Red Dead Redemption II Thus it required eight years of development by Rockstar, in the origin of the series GTand more than $540 million.

Read to inspire, play to write

Indeed, when these first complex games appeared at the turn of the nineties, there were many scriptural inspirations. dunesan exceptional masterpiece by Frank Herber, is a great theme adaptation as a turn-based strategy game (dunes, 1990). Where the player assumes the role of one of the greatest homes of the planet Arrakis in their quest to conquer it, cut scenes – Understand “scenes” in good French – Interactive dialogues insert the game’s actions into a larger world: it’s a matter of re-presenting the story, and thus the challenge, of representations that are then limited to small piles of indeterminate pixels. There were, in essence, the purposes of the association between the written word and the game: the need to give meaning and to include the player’s imagination in a larger world that, due to technical limitations, was actually content to act. On a limited front.

dunes1992.© Cryo Interactive / Virgin Interactive

On the contrary, these first video games were able to give birth to books: the puzzle game mist (1993), by the Miller brothers, puts the player on an island without knowing their reasons for being. He can move there through a series of still images, associated with mysterious problems where, little by little, with his simple click – and a lot of thought – he will be able to reach other parts of the island – other tables. Then the real structures of the narrative emerged—the initial situation/problem, the adventures, and the solution—which have been adapted into three books with the help of writer David Winggrove: Mysterious Reader (1997). Without judging the quality of the works in question, the twofold relationship between books and video games is established: the relationship of mutual inspiration, compensation for the impotence of the body and incarnation in the games of time, and openness to the doors of the book. The public, both younger and more scientific and technical.

mist1993.© Cyan world / Broderbund software

The new sociology of reading and video games

This association, which became increasingly rich with the development of technical and financial means, allowed the design of complex and lengthy games, often requiring several years of production. However, this type of product is no longer aimed at quick fun, but in dozens of hours of gameplay a basic quality has been sought: immersion, that is, the ability of the media to make the player “lose” the idea of ​​time through the plausibility of the proposed world, to make him continue playing By maintaining the quota – the narration – of the often-repetitive actions needed to progress. Thus it became necessary to build a coherent and rich world that is difficult to summarize: “knowledge”.

However, fiction literature has since The Lord of the rings By Tolkien (which has been adapted many times into video games of several genres), it has experienced a real spread in parallel with video game development. Pottery in children’s literature, in addition to introducing a new generation of readers into book culture, opened new economic horizons for a previously specialized literary genre. However, if this young audience reads a lot (the 15-24 age group is the most popular age group in France, ahead of the elderly, according to the Ipsos scale French and readings At the Center National du livre, 2020), he plays too, expecting to find in his games the same imaginative richness, the same narrative brilliance, as well as interactivity. Even as a screenwriter and designer, the successful author he knew through reading.

elden ring2022.© FromSoftware / Bandai Namco Entertainment

The massive success ofelden ring (12 million copies sold worldwide), open-world role-playing game, by George R.R. Martin, author of Game of thronesto the script. There he depicted a world of intermediate and distorted deities, the kingdom of the underworld. Co-screenwriter and game director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, moreover, will not hide the weight of reading in his influences: thus he will announce before the audience. guardian3 June 2015 that, poor and unemployed, forbidden by his parents to play video games, he spent his adolescence reading novels imagination In English, a language he was poorly fluent in.

A key place in popular culture

In addition to the influence of fantasy literature on these great games (Metro 2034And the the magicianto name a few franchises), a role-playing game updated by the series Weird things I played a similar role. common practice (more than 52% of French say they play video games regularly, 71% casually), and thus video game media in their associations with the written word have acquired an important place in popular culture, through consolidation, through the strength of their economic means and the strength of the interaction of the medium Same, many cultures or subcultures.

Like the musical genre of metal—whose eccentricities at times caused a wolf howl in the 1990s, before Hell Fest restored a fairer image of a middle-class crowd often taped to a conservatory elsewhere—the video game is about to come to an end. media transformation. Undoubtedly, defining a player as a reader has something to do with it.

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