What Can Be Read
from a Video Game:
Digital Media and Literature


The world of video games has its roots in, on the one hand, the dexterity-based Pong, and the text-based Zork, on the other. They were as different as table tennis and RPGs set in Tolkienesque fantasy worlds. The traces of both trends can be found in the DNA of the contemporary video games communicating with their users with stunningly realistic graphics, fantastic soundtracks, as well as descriptions and dialogues. There is no one way of doing things there. The coming multimedia domain combines the elements of different genres, and the more advanced it becomes, the better they are combined.

Reading is a natural activity for gamers. The backgrounds of the stories told in big adventure games are scenarios of hundreds of thousands of words. The popular Mass Effect 2 can be placed side by side with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy in that respect. And the The Witcher series from the CD Projekt RED studio has not only changed the way the mass cultural phenomenon of video games is approached in Poland, but it also influenced the public opinion on the screen version of Sapkowski’s saga about Geralt The Witcher. There are voices that free variations on the theme, or even the immersion (this notion emerges in every discussion on the essence of video games) in the Witcher’s world turn out to be a much better idea than the traditional adaptations of Sapkowski’s novels and short stories. It is also clear now that translating popular literary works into the language of games is possible. Think another popular game series Metro 2033 based on the postapocalyptic prose of Dmitry Glukhovsky.

There are two sides to the phenomenon. On the one hand, there are new interesting and surprising attempts to adapt books (e.g. Salammbô: Battle of Carthage, inspired by Flaubert’s novel) or to create spin-offs from their worlds (as in the popular BioShock series, which uses some elements of Ayn Rand’s prose). New ideas are constantly emerging. The Starward Industries studio is working on translating Stanisław Lem’s prose into a video game. A Polish adaptation of The Saragossa Manuscript can also be expected. The world of Geralt The Witcher is expanding at a rapid pace. We are looking for literariness in the more ambitious independent games, such as Gone Home, and the theatre tries to re-tell some classic texts using the narratives characteristic of video games (see Divine Comedy directed by Krzysztof Garbaczewski in Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw). On the other hand, the entire generation of young gamers has been raised on popular fiction taking place in the worlds they are familiar with (e.g. Minecraft) where they can experience a different form of what they can see in games. The two domains have long ago ceased to be in opposition to one another – if they ever were. There is a question though: what can they learn from each other?

[Bartek Chaciński]

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