February 23, 2017
Book video game meets video game eats books
by Peter Clark
If you’re still wondering whether video games can be high art, let me—a person who doesn’t even play video games—clear this up for you. They can. They definitely freaking can.
If you need proof, there are a long string a literature-inspired video games that might convince you — from popular series like Assassin’s Creed, inspired by Vladimir Bartol’s Alamus, to BioShock, which explores a world shaped by the ideas and characters in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The latter game follows a character—Atlas—encountering the consequences of pure, unrestrained objectivism, making each idiosyncrasy he encounters a riff on John Galt’s fully constructed, egomaniacal, architectural nightmares.
There is even an indie video game scene as creative as the book publishing industry — most notably, a breakout hit called Braid from 2008 that plays on the cliché of a dude trying to rescue his girlfriend from a monster. But as the game unfolds, the player realizes that the girl wasn’t captured — she was running away from the stalker ex trying to ruin her new relationship.
Enter player one for a new game called Quote. Scheduled for release later this year, this one takes book-love (or hate?) to a whole new level. It follows a girl, Novella, as she does the bidding of a god of ignorance named Bliss. Seeking to wipe out knowledge from the world, she must seek out books and feed them to a horrific monster.
Based on Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Quote plays on the novel’s theme of trying to suppress a text. For Eco, the text in question was the second half of Aristotle’s Poetics. In his version, a group of monks are trying to disseminate the volume, while a mysterious assassin picks them off one at a time to keep the philosophy from spreading. Playing as Novella, the user is forced into the questionable role of that assassin, freeing the world from the knowledge books contain. Questions arise about technology, happiness, and experience that echo the inspiring work.
The game’s designer, Robin Lacey, said in an interview with Kotaku’s Ethan Gach:
“What does concern me is that the sheer quantity of information now available seems to be undermining its value…. Finding an answer to a question now costs us so little, there is less incentive to understand it fully and commit it to memory. You have to be able to remember information for a sensible duration to draw meaningful connections and to form any kind of argument.”
So does eating a few books, in the mess of information available, present a moral dilemma? I’ll leave it to the gamers to decide that one.
Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.