Putting the Game Before the Book

Putting the Game Before the Book What would your favorite piece of literature look like if it had been created as a game first? In a time when bits of Dante’s Divine Comedy are being carved out and turned into a hack-n-slash game, I find myself longing for intelligently designed games–games with a strong literary component–not merely literary backdrops. So rather than challenge you to imagine the conversion of your favorite literature into games, I challenge you to supersede the source literature and imagine a game that might have tried to communicate the same themes, the same message, to its audience.

Another month, another Round Table. The joy cannot be contained!

So hey, this one is about LITERATURE, SO YOU KNOW IT'S FUCKING SERIOUS. So hey, let's go. Favorite book eh...hmm...

1984. Yeah, 1984. Either that, or Malcolm X, and I, as a stupid white dude, really shouldn't touch that from a game design perspective.

So, what's 1984 about? Most people would say 'Big Brother' and be done with it. These people would also make a game that's basically MGS on an endless mode, with a never-ending city that one constantly had to avoid police and the like in.

BUT 1984 IS NOT ABOUT BIG-FUCKING-BROTHER*. If you think 1984 is about Big Brother, there are two (2) possibilities

1) You have never read 1984. SHAME ON YOU. YOU CALL YOURSELF A CITIZEN OF A DEMOCRACY!?!?!11/?1*****
2) You have read 1984, and are merely and idiot. SHAME ON YOUR ENGLISH/LITERATURE TEACHERS.**

1984 is about LANGUAGE***. It's about how the easiest way to control thought is by making the thoughts you don't want thought IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT TO WORDS. If you don't have the WORDS for something, you can't TALK about it, and if you can't talk about your idea, you can't get it anywhere at all, can you****?

So now, we're not talking about Big Brother anymore. Forget it. Fuck the fucker. He's gone. We've moved on to LANGUAGE. So now, how do we make a game about language?

Lot harder now. Can't just rip off Kojima on a good day now, can we? Can we? No. We can't. This calls for some hard work. Some perseverance. Some INNOVATION.

Some motherfucking game design, bitches******.

So hey, make a game where you make a language. Not hard...right? I mean, first we would have to make some kind of system for understanding all current languages...aw shit. Sounds like some linguistic major shit.

You know what? Fuck it. 1984 is about Big Brother.*******

Lets go back to MGS endless, cause that just sounds awesome. I mean really, that's what I always hated about MGS. They just started moving so far from the STEALTH aspect. And moving through world. Man, that was some bullshit. I mean, look, just LOOK at how Snake moves. Does that say 'STEALTHY!' to you? No, it says 'I can't think of a better way for this dude to move, because my design is based off of a top-down MSX game.' Now I'm not saying that bringing ye-olden games into the modern age is a bad thing, but REALLY? You can't update the design to accommodate some better animations? REALLY?

So that'll be 1984. Just you, running through an ideally endless, randomly generated city, avoiding detection. But...what happens when you get detected? I mean, that's the REAL problem isn't it? Making the game react in a way that is internally consistent. So how, about when you get found, you can't take cover anymore. Instead, you character just starts running around and pissing his/her pants. Your control of them rapidly deteriorates as your avatar's panic rises. Like, you can point them in a given direction with your stick or whatever, but man, they're running so damn fast you can barely control the fucking camera, let alone that actual character!


Yeah. That sounds kinda nice...but it's not 1984...

Okay, back to language. 2-players. They agree on a 'neutral' sentence, pulled from the headlines or something.

'Today in the United States, there were widespread anti-abortion protests.'

So each player is given a position on this issue, and now has to make the headline support their cause, changing 1 word at a time. So the pro-abortion dude would have to make the headline say something like

'Today pro-life supporters rallied in support of human life.'

Okay fine, the first sentence has 9 words, and the second one has 8, but you see where I'm going right? You see, the problem with this is that while it kinda gets at some of the themes of 1984, it does so within the framework of a pre-existing language. There is no real potential for making up your OWN language to convey your OWN ideals, as given to you at the beginning of the game.

So maybe a game, where people are given a set of ideals, some words, and they each take turns shifting the language more towards their ideals?

But how would you measure that? Maybe you're given some kind of criteria for what words the language HAS to have, and you're given bonus points for having certain words...

But then, you've got the language, but not the applications of it. At this point, we're almost TO abstract.

So you would need two games running in parallel. One where people are making the language, another where people are using it. This would almost necessitate teams.

Oh shit! I accidentally arrived at an RTS I always wanted to make! Where each faction has both a commander and a resource-gather person. So like, in our language example. The language former person would be playing this kinda slow, tactical game where each move must be made carefully, because everyone uses the SAME language, and you only get one chance a round to change the lexicon as it were. But the other dude, he's playing this more intense game where the language in question is actually being used, and he needs MORE FIREPOWER CAPTAIN!

So hopefully you'll get this kinda nice tension within the team and between teams across both games.

So yeah. 1984, made into a party game, meets chess.


I think I lost something in the translation...

*But that game idea is solid. Really, endless modes in general are solid.
**After all, it's not your fault you're an idiot...is it?
***Yes, it's BOOK about LANGUAGE. And you thought Kojima was self-indulgent.
****Incidentally, this is a HUGE problem in gaming, but that's for another post.
*****NOTE: Ignore this sentence if you don't live in a democracy.
******I wish to apologize to my female readers for that one. I was merely attempting to sound like a action-movie-hard-ass. Man, that was a lot of hyphens.
*******No, it's not.


  1. Ooh, I think the changing-one-word-at-a-time thing - though not as 1984-ish as what you end up with - has real potential for a little casual sitting-around-the-table game. I curate a monthly game thing and it seems like it'd be fun to develop it into something people can play there - would you be okay in principle with me using the basic idea as a basis for a game? Email holly@severalbees.com if you want to talk about it...

  2. Posts like these really remind me why I keep reading this blog. Sure I may have been swept off in your enthusiasm but the idea is definitely interesting. I would like it to see both ideas combined, the walking around the world paralyzed by fear and exchanging words with another player into one cohesive idea.

  3. Holy. Shit.

    I have an actual reader? Someone who can stand my savage beatings of the English language?

    Hats off to you dude/dudette

  4. I agree! You might be onto something here with that changing-one-word-at-a-time thing. Maybe it would work with the help of massive multiplayer user-generated content. Like that low-fi experiment: "The Abrupt Goodbye"?

  5. Hmmm...that abrupt goodbye thing...hmmm...

    I can't say I like where it's going, but I like where it's coming from...Like the inverse pyramid going on, ya know? With the shortening of options...yeah...

    Would be cool as a GTA style things...almost...where whatever other people said was generated by other players, but you would never actually meet other players...hmmm

    Once again, a non-game teaches us about games!