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!
You see, not only did The Legend of Zelda turn 35 in the last few weeks, Pokémon, another franchise near and dear to my heart, also celebrated its 25th anniversary the other day. The Pokémon Company (TCPi) released a delightful retrospective video as part of their celebration:
Anyway, more to the point, Pokémon was my first “real” video game, and it’s a franchise I have a lot of fond memories of, from battling against my neighborhood friends to hunting rare creatures on my college campus in Pokémon Go.
With nearly 900 of these cartoon creatures in existence, it seems nearly impossible to narrow it down to my top 25 favorite, but I’m gonna try it anyway.
I’m not quite old enough to remember when the first The Legend of Zelda game was released, but I still have many fond memories of the series. The Legend of Zelda series was one of the first video games that really showed me how much adventure and story could be packed into one “little” game. No matter which game I played, there was always something new to explore, and I fell in love with the each game’s world and its characters.
Yesterday (February 21, 2021) marked the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda franchise. Nintendo’s popular adventure series made its debut in 1986 on the Famicom in Japan, before coming to the United States a year later on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). In celebration, I’ve collected a list of my favorite Zelda-related memories to share, in no particular order.
Transistor was the first Supergiant Games title that I played, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I fell in love with its art, music, and mechanics that were unlike anything else I had ever played before. It was what opened the door for me to try Bastion and, later on, Hades.
Like Bastion, Transistor is also about decisions. However, it is not about how or why we choose one thing over another, but instead one’s right to make decisions at all.
Video games are driven by decisions. The primary thing that sets video games apart from film or literature is the level of interaction involved, and that interaction comes through making decisions.
These days, there are entire genres of video games dedicated to decision-making, like visual novels. Apart from that, making choices is still a core part of narrative-driven games in other genres.
Bastion, the first game developed by Supergiant Games in 2011, is a typical action RPG on the surface. Beneath that, however, is a well-written story that culminates in two very charged decisions at the end of the game. The final scenes of Bastion have stuck with me since I finished the game a few months ago, and today, I’m going to take a closer look at what makes the game’s conclusion work so well.
Since I’m discussing the end of the game, spoilers for Bastion are below! I highly recommend playing the game for yourself first, but if you already have or just aren’t really a gamer, click to read on.
A few years ago, I was just beginning my foray into video game soundtracks. I had just finished my first year of college, and during that time I discovered that while my usual playlist made it difficult for me to focus on my work, instrumental soundtracks had the opposite effect. So I wrote a blog post ranking my favorite songs at the time.
Since then, I’ve expanded my horizons and listened to music from movies, TV series, and even some video games I never played before. Even though I’m not a musician, I find myself picking up on different themes in the soundtracks of my favorite games. I pay attention to the music, and it enhances my experience.
In light of that, I figured it was about time to revisit my list of favorites. I gave myself a few rules this time around:
No music with lyrics. So even though “Paper Boats” from Transistor is one of my favorites, it won’t make the cut. You should still listen to it though.
Only one song per game/franchise/composer. My playlist is much more varied now, and I want that to show through on this list.
On a side note, I did try to list composers in addition to the game’s title! If I didn’t know who composed the exact song, I just listed whoever was credited on Wikipedia. I also tried to link each track where I could, but it’s not uncommon for soundtracks to “disappear” from YouTube often. Apologies if there are any broken links here!
Without further ado, here are some of my favorite soundtrack songs that keep me going!
A year ago, in the midst of final exams and papers, I gave myself a few hours off to watch The Game Awards, the Oscars of the video game world (but with less gowns and more t-shirts). I remember that night, huddled on my bed in my dorm room, seeing Celeste win the Best Independent Game and Games for Impact awards. I was intrigued, because the Games for Impact Award generally goes to games focused on emotional storytelling and/or social issues. Not only that, but the developer, Maddy Thorson, spoke about mental illness in her acceptance speech. I kept the game in the back of my mind.
Later that month, I was visiting family, and saw that my cousin was playing Celeste. I learned then that Celeste is a platforming game that relies on quick reflexes and precision to make it from one “room” to the next. I really wanted to give it a try, because the music was catchy and the retro graphics were cute, but I’m horrible at platformers. Even Super Mario games with all of their fail-safes are a challenge for me. I had a feeling that Celeste would be a frustrating waste of money for me, so I shelved the idea of ever playing it.
That is, until the Epic Games Store gave it away for free this year. Knowing it was considered one of the best games of 2018, I “bought” it and decided to give it a whirl when I was itching for a new game to play.
As I suspected, I sucked at it. In the first chapter (or “level”) alone, I died hundreds of times. I would die hundreds more in the chapters to come. But what really drew me in to Celeste was its story and main character, Madeline. I found myself identifying with Madeline a lot, and in a way, her quest to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain became my quest too.
Two years ago, a little app overtook the world. This app was Pokémon Go, a mobile game based on the popular video game franchise that used GPS and augmented reality technology to bring the cartoon creatures to the real world.
People everywhere grabbed their smartphones and left to explore their towns and neighborhoods. Even today, the game still brings people together regularly. I’ve made some great friends at my school through the game, and there were dozens of people at a local park for the most recent Community Day.
In Pokémon Go there are three teams: Team Valor, Team Mystic, and Team Instinct. Once players reach a certain level, they join one of these teams and then compete against the others.
The choice of team is arbitrary, but each one embodies a certain set of characteristics. Knowing this, it got me thinking – if fictional characters played Pokémon Go, what teams would they be on? I’ve decided to “sort” a handful of them and give a few reasons why. Plus, if you’ve always wanted to know what team you should be on, I have just the quiz for you!
One fateful day many years ago, someone handed me a GameBoy Advance and a copy of Pokémon Sapphire, and my life was never the same.
I suppose you could take that in the literal sense – i.e. I became a huge geek after that, and my chances of ever being able to pretend I was a normal human being were completely shot – but I think there’s something more there too, something less tangible and obvious than discovering a new hobby.
The things that are a part of our childhoods often have a bigger impact on us than we realize, but we tend to brush these things off as being “not mature enough” to have any real significance in our lives. We look back at the hobbies we had and the games we played as children and think, “Yeah, that was fun, but it doesn’t really mean anything now.”
Pokémon was my first “geek obsession,” right after I received Pokémon Sapphire for my brother’s birthday (it’s a long story, which you can read here). Ever since then, I’ve played almost every entry in the series, and so I consider myself something of an expert on these Pocket Monsters.
Have you ever wanted to be a Pokémon Trainer, but had no idea where to start? Or have you just been confused by all of the “Pokemans” your friends keep talking about? Well, today’s your lucky day, because I have the ABCs of Pokémon right here for a beginner like you. After reading this, you’ll be a Pokémon Master in no time!