Video games and book nerds don’t seem to go together. When most people (who don’t play video games) think video games, they tend to think of mindless button mashing, lots of pointless slaughter, and, of course, inane, barely-there plot lines about saving princesses or saving the world or something else equally full of misogynistic bravado.
Happily, these assumptions aren’t completely true. While there are plenty of games that are just about shooting anything that moves, the gaming industry is full of so many different types of games that there’s pretty much something for everyone when it comes to gaming. That includes book nerds.
If you’ve ever sighed dreamily and wished that you could immerse yourself in the world of whatever book you’re reading… If you’ve ever wished you could play around with the plot line of your favorite novel and see what might’ve happened if this or that had gone differently… If you’ve ever wondered what the unexplored corners of Middle Earth look like… Then you might want to give video games a shot.
Many video games have brilliant story lines that are rich and complex and full of three-dimensional characters and relationships. If you give some of these video games a try, you might just find that you can add a whole other type of geekery to your nerd status. Trust me. In no time, you’ll be shipping Garrus and Shepard from Mass Effect as hard as you ship Ron and Hermione. Seriously, give games a shot.
1. The Mass Effect Series
What really makes Mass Effect great are the characters. Throughout the series, you play the same character and you work with many of the same characters as well. So, as the universe-scale plot unwinds around you, you develop intimate relationships (and, if you so desire, some very intimate relationships) with these people and actually come to care about them. Like in real life, the decisions you make affect not only the plot, but also your personal relationships. Oh, there’s also plenty of opportunity for alien sex… you know, if that’s your thing.
2. The Dragon Age Series
Because Dragon Age and Mass Effect are made by the same developer, Bioware, they have a lot in common. Like Mass Effect, Dragon Age is very story heavy, focuses on character relationships, and the decisions you make have a real impact on how the story turns out. Dragon Age, though, takes place in a sort of medieval, LOTR-esque world of mages, elves, swords, and shields. While all of the games in the series take place in the same world and follow the same storyline, you actually play as a different character in each game, allowing you to explore the plot from different perspectives, like a book that changes narrators in each chapter.
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
You know how after you put down a good fantasy book, you feel sort of nostalgic and wish you could just live in the beautiful world of that book forever? Well, it might not be forever, but playing Wild Hunt is so immersive and the wide-open world so beautiful that you’ll find yourself humming the soundtrack and daydreaming in the middle of your work day. The story is remarkable, and if you actually take the time to read all those codices you get, you’ll find some incredible lore and history that’ll only make the games seem more real.
4. Kentucky Route Zero
OK, so, Kentucky Route Zero might not have all the fancy graphics and mechanics that games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect have, but it is actually really beautiful in an entirely different way. With incredibly gorgeous art and a haunting soundtrack, Kentucky Route Zero is truly a work of art. Add to that the eerie mystery and the depth of the characters and you’ve got a real literary-gaming gem.
5. Ever, Jane
It’s still in beta, but this online game that brings to life the world of Jane Austen promises to be book nerd candy. A hard contrast to your typical game, the main battles involve wit and etiquette rather than swords and shields. You can download the beta here. You know you want to.
6. Elder Scrolls Online
It’s not the most “Second Life” type online game out there, but it is one of the prettiest. But you’re looking for story, right? Well, ESO has a great balance of story, open world exploration, and some of those immersive aspects of online gaming like crafting. The decisions you make do have an impact, though they play a decidedly less significant role than in games like Mass Effect. But the real beauty of this game is the vastness and complexity of the world itself. You can literally just run around this world and run into people, quests, and landscapes other players have never seen. It’s a wide open world.
7. Heavy Rain
Here’s the thing about Heavy Rain… it’s seriously, really freaking heavy. First of all, every decision you make can have severe, lasting, devastating consequences. The horrible deaths of some of the main characters can be one of those consequences. Seriously, the main characters are so very not invincible. It’ll rip your heart out Game of Thrones style. And as you play as a father searching for his son who may have fallen into the hands of a serial killer, it’ll get your heart rate up like Gone Girl. It’s a freaking emotional experience.
8. The Last of Us
If you love a good horror novel, then prepare to have the living hell scared out of you. Ask anyone who’s played The Last of Us; it’s so freaking terrifying it’s actually kind of traumatizing. Seriously. I still get phantom chest pains just thinking about it. But it’s not just kitschy horror; it’s actually got a great story to it, too. That’s what makes it so genuinely horrifying. You’re not just Joe Shmo who whacks at zombies. Nope, the story actually gives you a reason to want to survive and the scenarios you’re thrown into are realistically terrifying and impossible. This is definitely what the zombie apocalypse would really feel like.
9. L.A. Noire
So, you’ve always imagined you’d make a good detective? You’re the kind of reader who tries to solve the mystery before the big reveal and then gloats triumphantly when you got any part of it right, right? Well, in L.A. Noire you actually get to be the detective, detective Cole Phelps to be exact. You’ve got cases to solve, witnesses to interrogate, lies to sort through, and, of course (it is a game, after all), gunfights to win. You won’t be let down by the twists and mysteries either.
If you’re more into books that play with ideas and break all sorts of literary rules (you know, like Infinite Jest or House of Leaves), then this is the mind-trippy game for you. With a unique mechanism that allows you to pause, fast-forward, and rewind time, the game riffs on ideas about the reliability of memory, self-denial, and perspective as it uses “memory” and time travel to paint a love story that ultimately disrupts the “save-the-princess” narrative of video games past.
Image: Pawel Kadysz/Unsplash; Bioware (2); CD Projekt RED; Cardboard Computer; Zenimax Online Studios; Quantic Dream; Naughty Dog; Rockstar Games