Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.
Today I wanted to share a selection of books that feature video games as a major plot device.
I’m always excited to find a book that features or is set in a video game. It’s so fun to combine these two interests of mine and see how they interact. Normally I end up wanting to play the video game myself… So here is a selection of books where video games play a major role.
Erebos by Ursula Pozanski
When 16-year-old Nick receives a package containing the mysterious computer game Erebos, he wonders if it will explain the behavior of his classmates, who have been secretive lately. Players of the game must obey strict rules: always play alone, never talk about the game, and never tell anyone your nickname.
Curious, Nick joins the game and quickly becomes addicted. But Erebos knows a lot about the players and begins to manipulate their lives. When it sends Nick on a deadly assignment, he refuses and is banished from the game.
Now unable to play, Nick turns to a friend for help in finding out who controls the game. The two set off on a dangerous mission in which the border between reality and the virtual world begins to blur.
I haven’t read Erebos, but it sounds like an interesting concept. From the blurb, it sounds like less of the book takes place within the game than others on this list, and that it is perhaps a bit of a psychological thriller. It was originally written in German, and was translated into English a couple of years after original publication.
The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?
But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.
The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team. But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.
I read and reviewed The Eye of Minds by James Dashner in June this year, after it had been sitting on my Netgalley shelf for a while. It comes from the same author as The Maze Runner, and whilst I didn’t find it quite as enjoyable or fast-paced, it was still a fun read. The third book in the series (The Mortality Doctrine) was released last month.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.
Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.
I have written a LOT about Ready Player One in the past – I’ve reviewed it, shared five reasons why you should read it, recommended it to YA readers, listed it as one of my top ten books of 2013, made it part of my definitive sci-fi reads challenge and listed it as one of my top ten sci-fi reads overall. So, yeah. I like this book quite a lot. It can be a bit hit and miss depending on when you grew up and if you’ve always loved video games, but most other people I know who have read it absolutely loved it too.
Elusion by Claudia Gabel
Soon, Elusion® will change the world and life as we know it.
A new technology called Elusion is sweeping the country. An app, visor and wristband will virtually transport you to an exotic destination where adventure can be pursued without the complications — or consequences — of real life.
Regan is an Elusion insider. Or at least she used to be. Her father invented the program, and her best friend, Patrick, heir to the tech giant Orexis, is about to release it nationwide. But ever since her father’s unexpected death, Regan can’t bear to Escape, especially since waking up from the dream means crashing back to her grim reality.
Still, when there are rumors of trouble in Elusion — accusations that it’s addictive and dangerous — Regan is determined to defend it. But the critics of Elusion come from surprising sources, including Josh, the handsome skeptic with his own personal stakes. As Regan investigates the claims, she discovers a disturbing web of secrets. She will soon have to choose between love and loyalty… a decision that will affect the lives of millions.
I’ve not read Elusion and found it especially for this post. It sounds like the program within the book, Elusion, is a Second Life type game, where the player can become whoever they want, and do whatever they want. It seems to have received quite mixed reviews from my Goodreads friends though!
The .hack// series
Old-fashioned role-playing games have experienced a renaissance on the World Wide Web. Twins Rena and Shugo are two middle-school students who enter ‘The World’ as level one game characters. When Shugo’s character dies, he is transported to another level where he is entrusted to bear the Twilight Bracelet by the mysterious Aura. Shugo must find out who Aura is and why she gave him this powerful weapon to protect his sister from the peculiar characters in ‘The World’.
The description above is for .hack//Legend of the Twilight, which is one of my favourite manga series. However, there are lots of different .hack// series with different story arcs and characters, all set within ‘The World’. Most of them have also been adapted into anime series. If you’re thinking of trying them out, I’d recommend you start with this one – it’s fairly short and a good introduction.
Armada by Ernest Cline
Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe. And then he sees the flying saucer.
Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada — in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.
No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills — as well as those of millions of gamers across the world — are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.
It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little… familiar?
Yep, another Ernest Cline book! Armada was released earlier this year, after a long, long wait. I was lucky enough to get a review copy, and reviewed the book a couple of months ago. It didn’t have quite the same wow factor as Ready Player One, but it might work better for those who don’t get all the 80’s/video game references in the previous book.