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Video Game Novels Are So Underrated

I’m the type of person who gets really fixated when I fall in love with a game. I’ve been known to 100 percent games that click perfectly for me and then just wander around aimlessly afterward with nothing to do. Sometimes I just can’t bring myself to leave behind beloved worlds and characters even when the story is over. Whenever I finish a game but I’m just not ready for it to end, the first thing I always do is look for a tie-in novel. Novels, or books, are those heavy things full of words they used to make you read in school. Did you know that some of them are about your favorite video games? Stay with me.

I know why video game novels have a bad reputation, but I don’t think it's fair. They’re sometimes looked at as fan fiction since they were written by hired guns and not the game developers (even though most of you don’t know who wrote your favorite games anyway) and they’re often considered non-canon, which to many is another way of saying ‘pointless’. Video game books are the lowest form of fiction down there with film novelizations and vampire romance novellas. Also, books are just boring.

If that’s all true then let me ask you one question: Why do you all love the Halo books? The Halo novels are canonical prequels that were so popular in my middle school you have to wait in line for an entire semester to check them out from the library. When I talk to gamers about video game books it seems like everyone read and loved these books because of how much they added to the lore and world-building of the Halo series. I wasn’t even a big fan of the games as a kid and I loved The Fall of Reach, The Flood, and First Strike because they took the stoic action hero Master Chief from the games and turned him into a grounded, relatable character. My friends, I’m here to tell you there’s an entire world of video game novels out there that are just as good as, if not better than the Halo series.

If you want to get deep into the lore of some of the best games, there’s quite a few lengthy series out there. For Blizzard fans, there are 22 books in the main World of Warcraft series – which have frequently served as prequels for each expansion – as well the War of the Ancients trilogy and the four-book Archive series that explore the deep history of Azeroth. There are ten Diablo books which cover all three games and 15 StarCraft novels published between 2001 and 2016. If you’re a BioWare fan, there are currently seven Mass Effect novels, five Dragon Age novels, and four Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic novels. There’s an Assassin’s Creed series, a Resident Evil series, and a Gears of War series, just to name a few. Almost none of these books are novelations or direct adaptations of events from the games – they’re all original stories that take place in your favorite video game universes and feature your favorite characters.

I’ve read countless video game books and have always enjoyed them even if they’ll never be regarded as fine literature. Dead Space: Martyr is a prequel that captures the tension and gruesome thrills of the game perfectly, Deus Ex: Icarus Effect rounds out the story by exploring background characters, BioShock: Rapture shows us what happened to the underwater city before Jack arrived, and Marvel’s Midnight Suns: Infernal Rising – my most recent read – reveals how the suns became a team before the Avengers showed up at the Abbey.

If sitting down to read a book sounds like a chore, you can find most video game novels in audiobook format too – and some of them are incredible. The Splinter Cells series is read by Michael Ironside, the voice of Sam Fisher, and the most recent Warcraft novel, which tells the life story of Sylvanas, is read by the actress who plays Sylvanas, Patty Mattson. The God of War novelization (co-written by game director Cory Barlog and his father J.M. Barlog, who is an accomplished fantasy novelist in his own right) is read by Mimir himself, Alastair Duncan. One of my favorite things to do while I’m grinding WoW is listen to books about WoW. I’m a real content connoisseur that way.

Finally, I have to mention the games that are based on books. If you’re concerned about the quality of video game books, you can start with something like Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Metro 2033, World War Z, and of course, The Witcher series. If comic books are more your speed, there are even more options, including Destiny, Uncharted, Mortal Kombat, Bloodborne, and Cyberpunk 2077. I guarantee every JRPG you like has a complimentary manga too.

The point is, endlessly replaying your favorite games isn’t the only way to enjoy them. Different kinds of media have different strengths and opportunities for unique storytelling that you can’t get from just playing games. If you want to really experience everything your favorite games have to offer (and not to mention, increase your media literacy) pick up a book, damnit. I promise it’s not as boring as it sounds.

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