In the world of videogames, it is not an uncommon phenomena for popular franchises to receive the spin-off treatment; many spinoff games are in fact quite successful! From Mario Kart, to Yoshi’s Island, to Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, some of my favourite games of all time are spin offs! Spinoff games allow us to see more of our favourite characters and worlds through new lenses, and in contexts we may not have imagined them before. Did fans in 1986 ever imagine that Mario could be a racecar driver? Probably not, but it sure is fun! In many cases, I actually find myself enjoying spinoff games even more than the originals! However, very rarely have I finished a videogame and thought to myself: “gee, I wish this were a novel”.
And yet, more and more video games are spinning off into books- from Halo, to Assassins Creed, to even Minecraft! Yes, you heard that right, Minecraft is making up and coming strides into the world of literature.
You may be asking yourself a lot of questions right now, first and foremost among which is: “why”? By all logical means, the adaptation of video game-to-novel format is completely nonsensical, with experiences seeming to directly contradict each other. Video games allow players to interact with the world around them and take direct part in the action, making their own choices and shaping their own narratives. Novels, on the other hand, are far more restrictive in their user experience. Unable to offer readers this same freedom of designing their own narratives, the reader can only observe from the back seat, unable to mould the story themself or take any part in the action. It may be for this same reason that movie adaptations of video games generally don’t have the best reputation, and the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie (yes, there is a Mario movie) well...it’s best not to talk about that.
However, against all odds, many novelizations of video game franchises actually manage to do surprisingly well. Let us look at the Halo franchise for instance. Arguably one of the most popular video game franchises on the market right now, the first Halo novel was published in 2001, shortly after the release of the first game. Since then, the novel franchise has grown to span across 17 stand-alone novels, three trilogies, and a duology, amassing a whopping 28 novels in total! The question is: are they any good?
The fan consensus is...Yes! Throughout its 19 year run and counting, the book series has amassed surprisingly positive reviews, with the first novel in the series: Halo: The Fall of Reach averaging a 4.27 score on goodreads.com with 20,732 ratings, better stats than many original novels- with most readers agreeing they were pleasantly surprised. With the novel surpassing most expectations, many readers on goodreads are recommending it, not only to fellow fans, but to any fans of the sci-fi genre in general! Though these reviews are largely all from original fans of the video game series, some reviewers on goodreads claim to have enjoyed the book despite never playing the series.
But Halo is far from the only video game franchise to receive the full book treatment, some of the most noteworthy are:
The Elder Scrolls
Five Nights at Freddy’s
Gears of War
God of War
World of Warcraft
For the most part, novel adaptations of video game series use their format, not to retell the original story of the game, but to expand on the games’ universes and characters, creating new stories as opposed to retelling old ones. The majority of these adaptations have been met with largely positive reviews from fans of the series, who greatly appreciated the extra layer of depth that these novels added, learning new backstories behind their favourite characters and giving us insight into characters’ thoughts and emotions that could not be gotten from the games themselves.
Novels may not be able to provide player-choice in the same way that video games do, however, novels do offer a capacity of depth and character exploration that videogames do not. Perhaps the two are not entirely compatible format-wise, but perhaps they don’t need to be. It may be that the two can actually use their differences to compliment each other instead of simply opposing, each capable of expressing something that the other can not. Fans are always looking for new ways to engage in their favourite worlds, and adaptations can be a way of experiencing stories and characters in a new light. By using adaptations and spinoffs to expand on lore in a way beyond simply retelling it, it is giving fans something new and exciting to explore. This just goes to show that no matter how outlandish the adaptation, whether it be a racing game reimagining, a comic book, or even a novel, if there is a passionate fanbase who enjoy the universe and characters, there will always be a fan out there to enjoy it.