Getting Into Gaming (As a Reader)

Along with your other quarantine hobbies, maybe you’re getting into video games. Here, we recommend based on your reading preferences.

Adaptations Pop Culture

Along with other quarantine hobbies, you may be thinking about getting into gaming right about now. Since it takes years to build up favorites (just as with book picks), we will start with some reader types and good matches for that. I will also be noting platforms. Also, while I have been gaming since elementary school, do note that this list is written with an adult audience in mind. With that said, let’s start on an important note to first-time gamers in the audience.

 

Motion sickness in gaming. It’s a thing (with highly individual fixes).

67% of adult participants in a 2012 study reported some symptoms of motion sickness while gaming, so you wouldn’t be alone in your complaints. As such, suppose you’re playing something like Bioshock and start to get inexplicable nausea/headaches/sweats. That’s a sign you should take a break and keep taking frequent breaks throughout your playthrough. Additionally, keep the lights on and sit further from the screen, as these environmental fixes are a good starting point. For in-game fixes, I would advise seeing if there are FOV/Field of View settings (my comfort area is 90-100 degrees) and a way to disable motion blur/screen shake. Additionally, if you think any slight mouse/joystick movement sends your in-game camera spinning, look for something like “look/camera sensitivity” in the settings and start dropping it until you’re more comfortable. 

 

With that in mind, we can now get to the actual recommendations! In general, I would advise taking frequent breaks even if you don’t suffer from motion sickness, especially if you worked any jobs that have high rates of repetitive strain injuries!

Image via Weta workshop, hosted on Artstation

 

Tolkien fans (and action buffs in general):

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, although it’s not very beginner friendly due to only coming in one difficulty setting (Windows/Xbox One/PS4, 17+)

This is a story set in the gap between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings novels, with a particular emphasis on traveling around and fighting orcs (the framing story is the standard “they killed my barely-introduced family, they must die” issue). However, you will also meet Gollum and try to get to Sauron, although there isn’t any super groundbreaking lore here. What elevates this game from the expected “mediocre open-world cash-grab” status, however, is the amount of thought placed into the artificial intelligence of the world. The orcs reference your actions during the prior fights with them, react to weaknesses like fear of fire, and get promoted in the background, among other things. There is actually a screen for examining the command structure of Sauron’s army, which shifts every time an orc kills your immortal lead. The fights are very nicely executed, too. 

 

 

Mythology buffs:

 

image via luke berliner, hosted on artstation

 

God of War reboot, although you’re welcome to also take a stab at the old games, comes with a newbie mode (PS4, 17+)

Why am I starting with the reboot? Well, partly because it’s a good time if you’re familiar with Norse mythology (but it’s definitely playable even if you don’t have Edith Hamilton’s Mythology chilling on your shelf like I do). And partly because I’m not about to task you with playing through an entire long series that hasn’t always aged well. At any rate, this game hits a very nice balance between a family story, exploration of a large world, and the expected fighting. You’re just playing a widower who is trying to repair his strained relationship with his son (and hoping he doesn’t turn out like him), trying to fulfil his wife’s wish, and dealing with his own grief. Although you increasingly get drawn into the conflicts of the places you visit, as it wouldn’t be a mythology-inspired epic without this. I would describe it as taking a more indie movie-like approach to the open-world game genre.

 

image via jen zee, hosted on twitter

 

Hades (Windows-only in early access as of 8/6/2020, beware of bugs, unrated but definitely for an older crowd, has a beginner mode but you’ll still die a lot) 

You’re actually playing Hades’ son, who wants to leave the underworld (and gets help from the rest of the pantheon to do so). Hades continuously antagonizes you, both when you get killed off (death never sticks in the underworld), and throughout your escape attempts. In this take on the mythos, the Underworld is a bureaucracy, there are numerous jokes about how dysfunctional divine families are, and you can pet Cerberus. Additionally, there are various stories going on in the background, like Persephone’s mysterious absence and various relationships among the Underworld inhabitants. As you can see, it’s a solid pick if you’re an adult who grew up with Percy Jackson, or appreciate the idea of a game that can be summarized as “a cross between a mythology book and a moshpit”. Definitely the “weird hipster thing” on the list, and you’ll either love it or hate it.

You do non-English literature:

 

image via Marcin Blaszczak, hosted on artstation

Witcher 3, the first one hasn’t aged well but the second one partially holds up, comes with a newbie mode (Windows/PS4/Xbox One, 17+)

The most obvious suspect in gaming right now, besides Metro games. However, I would recommend the latest franchise entry (unless we’re counting standalone Gwent) as a beginner pick because it’s less likely to cause motion sickness and has less of a reputation for difficulty. This is definitely the equivalent of a door-stopper novel in gaming, with my “main story and whatever side quests interested me” playthrough clocking in at approximately 50 hours. In short, Ciri is chased by the Wild Hunt and Geralt sets out on a quest to beat them back. Also, you take on monster-hunting contracts, get entangled in various locales’ side stories, and deal with politics and moral questions. Due to the writing that can nail both drama and humor (matched by the wonderful production value), it’s definitely a large-scale game that holds up a half-decade after release.

 

 

English major options?

 

image via Alexey Zaryuta, hosted on artstation

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments (PC/PS4/Xbox One, 17+)

There were lots of Sherlock games (and ones that owed a lot to the detective fiction genre the character popularized, like the Phoenix Wright franchise), but this one would be your best bet. There isn’t much of an overarching storyline here, since the game is just about solving the individual cases and placing you into the detective’s shoes, but they’re enjoyable enough. Also, you can be wrong, so you need a little notebook to jot your thoughts down in for this. You can also choose to let the person off the hook, adding moral ambiguity to your playthrough. It’s probably one of the most beginner-friendly options on the list, as you should be fine if you have any puzzle-solving experience at all. The Victorian London also still looks gorgeous, even though this game was released six years ago.

 

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concept art via kotaku uk

 

Bloodborne, highly beginner-unfriendly (PS4, 17+)

This game owes a lot to Lovecraft, but ultimately avoids the inevitable issues of attempting to adapt his work for modern audiences. Sure, you fight cosmic horrors and tentacle monsters in a grim world, and your character has a Frenzy/madness meter. Better not look at the things you shouldn’t even begin to comprehend! But in this game, you’re playing the customizable foreigner who must also fight the xenophobic hordes in what’s definitely not Victorian London. The visual design of the game is incredibly strong, between the horrors you face, the Gothic architecture (although Hunter’s Dream is also a standout), and the allies’ more human appearances. I was also a fan of the storytelling that requires you to really explore to get all the puzzle pieces, which can be put together in multiple (still-debated) ways. However, the developer of the game has a reputation for difficulty, and this streak continues here (between the lack of pause menu, even the starter enemies posing a threat, and lack of proper tutorials). As such, it’s best saved for a few years into your gaming journey. And even then, you will either fall for it hard or hate it.

 

image via Cordell Felix, one of the environment artists on remasters, hosted on artstation

 

Bioshock: The Collection, has beginner modes (Windows/PS4/Xbox One/the dodgy Nintendo Switch port, 17+)

Then, of course, there’s the series that proved that commercially-successful games can have arthouse aspirations. The first Bioshock game was notable at the time for being a shooter with a story that referenced and discussed Ayn Rand’s work, dropping numerous historical and mythological references of varying degrees of obscurity, and discussed gamer morality. In it, you’re a silent-for-plot-reasons guy who survives a plane crash near the entry point for the underwater Objectivist utopia of Rapture. It’s an utterly gorgeous town that will get you interested in art deco architecture and old graphic design! Unfortunately, it’s both metaphorically and literally rotten, and your welcome party includes people driven mad by the “enhancing” drugs that were advertised as safe. Also, you’ve arrived right after the place fell because of class divisions and the lack of ethics committees to guide scientific research, among other things! Needless to say, you’re now trying to escape. 

 

image via ben lo, hosted on conceptartworld

 

Skip the second game/the cash-in sequel in favor of Bioshock Infinite, which is more interested in historical than literary discussion but is nonetheless still a fascinating story to play through. You should also pair that one with Tyler Anbinder’s City of Dreams, as the game heavily discusses the 1800’s ethnic/class struggles that some public schools only briefly discuss. In short, you’re trying to get a girl with reality-bending powers out of the “American Dream” dystopia of Columbia before it crumbles, as that job would finally extinguish your gambling debts. Once again, it’s an utterly gorgeous city that is only great to live in if you’re part of the elite upperclass. The game itself is also an interesting take on time-travel and multiple realities later on, coming to think of it.

 

 

Right, we’re done! This list was only a quick crash course, as there are numerous other games that reference literature (like the somewhat-infamous Spec Ops: The Line, but that’s more of a discussion on gamer morality than Heart of Darkness) and it’s hard to fit them all in. At any rate, there is also a large world of gaming to explore out there, from the cute independent games like Ooblets to the exploration-heavy worlds like Assassin’s Creed games. Just as with book picks, it takes years to figure out your preferences and favorite creators. As such, it’s best to just take your time and play however you want!

 

Extra Reads:

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier: It’s a great behind-the-scenes story on development of various notable games, from independent darlings like Stardew Valley to the large-budget games like the aforementioned Witcher 3. The author is currently at Bloomberg, doing the same kind of excellent reporting that is contained within this book.

Significant Zero by Walt Williams: Yes, the writer of Spec Ops: The Line wrote a book about his experiences in the gaming industry, starting from the assorted gruntwork during Bioshock’s development. In this book, he discusses everything from the hell that is game testing to voice recording to, yes, the actual writing and design of the game. 

 

featured image via kotaku uk