Ever since I was small, there have been two things that I’ve loved: books and video games. These two passions rarely intersected during my childhood. Sometimes a more recently published book would have a passing reference to a Gameboy or PlayStation, but more often than not, it was like video games just didn’t exist in fiction.
Fortunately, that is no longer the case. Video games have increased in popularity among all age groups, not just children. Combine that with the fact that there are more and more emerging authors who also grew up with video games, and you have the perfect recipe for bringing reading and gaming together.
This list contains some of my favorite video game-related novels. These are books where games play an integral part in the story itself – they’re not just something for characters to do on the weekend. Each narrative is crafted around different genres of video games, and they often use those games as vehicles to discuss important topics like personal identity, societal issues, and building relationships.
My childhood may have been lacking in “gamer books,” but I’m so thankful that they exist now, especially for readers who have been waiting to see characters like themselves reflected on the page. There is something for everyone here!
Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao
12-year-old Zachary Ying has spent most of his life being raised by his single mother in the United States, disconnected from his Chinese heritage. Zack spends his free time playing an augmented reality (AR) video game called Mythrealm, but when he’s bullied by one of his classmates, Zack summons a strange power to protect himself. As it turns out, Zack’s family is descended from the First Emperor of China, and now that Emperor’s spirit is bound to Zack’s gaming headset.
Teaming up with two other kids also hosting their own emperors, Zack must embark on a mission to prevent spirits from the Chinese underworld from leaking into the real world. This book is stuffed with references to video games and other geeky pop culture, since they’re what Zack uses to understand this unfamiliar world of magic, myth, and legend. Marketed by the author as “Chinese Percy Jackson meets Yu-Gi-Oh,” Zachary Ying is a great book for gamers young and old.
Slay by Brittney Morris
High school student Kiera Johnson has a secret: she’s the developer behind SLAY, an online multiplayer game she created as a space for Black gamers to connect and compete without being harassed by other gamers. SLAY’s existence is a well-kept secret – until a teen is murdered over a dispute in the game. The media catches wind of the story and calls SLAY “racist,” while others threaten to sue the game for “discrimination.” Meanwhile, a troll has entered the game and begun harassing other players.
Kiera must find a way to protect herself, her game, and the community she’s created. Slay is a fantastic story with lots of action-packed gameplay, but it’s also able to discuss significant social issues with the depth they deserve. It’s a must-read for any gamer, especially if you enjoy deck-building or card-based video games.
Check out the book’s website to read a free excerpt and see some of the cards used in its game!
DPS Only! by Velinxi
DPS Only! is a graphic novel starring Vicky Tan, a girl with a secret love for the video game Xenith Orion, also known as “XO.” Even though her older brother Virgil is a professional XO player, Vicky only plays in secret under the name “Aegis,” afraid that revealing her identity as a young woman would only result in harassment from other players and the XO community. Not even Virgil knows she plays.
However, when the opportunity to play in a tournament against professional XO teams arises, Vicky finds herself teaming up with friends new and old to participate. Although the tournament is at the forefront, this book also deals with social anxiety and sexism in gaming. Fans of professional esports and games like Overwatch will particularly find lots to love about DPS Only!
DPS Only! is available in print can also currently be read online via Tapas
Warcross and Wildcard by Marie Lu
Content warnings (Warcross and Wildcard)
Warcross and its sequel Wildcard take place in a not-so-distant future where virtual and augmented reality have taken over the world. The NeuroLink, as its known, has revolutionized the way people go about their daily lives, and also introduced a competitive esports game known as Warcross. When Emika Chen gets caught hacking into the opening match of the Warcross Championships, she’s sure she’s in trouble.
Things take a turn for the strange though when Emika is summoned by Hideo Tanaka, the NeuroLink’s creator and a young prodigy. Hideo has a secret mission for a skilled hacker like Emika, and she’ll need to go undercover among the Warcross teams to accomplish it. If you’re interested in how AR and VR can be used not just in games, but also in everyday life, this duology is the one for you.
Let’s Play by Leeanne M. Krecic
This webcomic, part slice of life and part romance, tells the story of 22-year-old Sam Young. Sam has loved video games since she was young, and has just made one of her own. Unfortunately, Marshall Law, a famous “Viewtuber” (read: Youtuber), criticizes her game on his channel. His fans review-bomb the game, sending Sam’s rating plummeting. And then Marshall moves into the apartment next to Sam’s (of course).
The series follows Sam in her life as a gamer and a game creator, but we also see her navigating mental and physical health issues, complicated family dynamics, and new romantic relationships. Some chapters are more romance-heavy than others, but regardless, Let’s Play is a fun and engaging read for anyone immersed in gaming and internet culture.
Let’s Play is available in several print volumes and can also currently be read online via Webtoon
What are some of your favorite hobbies? Have you ever read a book where that was the focus of the story? Share some recommendations in the comments!
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3 thoughts on “Video Game Books to Read After Setting the Controller Down”
I didn’t know that Zachary Ying had video games in it!! Shows how much I pay attention to book releases and synopses 😅
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It does! And it’s such a good book. It’s my most recent read out of all of these and I loved it so much.
Always interesting, Maggie.