Are Games a Gateway into Classic Lit for Reluctant Readers?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

My generation played role playing games; today’s kids play video games. It’s the obsession with story that turns someone into a reader.

By Edward Nawotka

For a certain generation of writers, role playing games offered a gateway into literature. I am not ashamed to say that the first magazine subscription I paid for myself was to Dragon magazine and that most of my pocket money as a child went to the products of TSR publishing.

Novelist Ed Park dedicated his contribution in Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book to extolling the virtues of The Dungeon Master’s Guide. He’s certainly not alone in having fallen for the charms of Gary Gygax’s prose, though Park got so obsessed that he went and even sought out many of the authors that Gygax listed as having had an influence on the creation of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

What’s especially revealing about Park’s essay is when he notes, “I keep meaning to read Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual. But I don’t, maybe because I want it to be the Dungeon Master’s Guide.” How many others still feel that way?

For today’s young reader, role playing games have gone digital in the form of games like World of Warcraft, the Sims, Dragon Age and others. What’s more, you’re increasingly seeing attempts to turn classic literature into games. Some are doing it in earnest — such as EA’s atrocious adaptation of Dante’s Inferno — and some are doing it ironically, such as the creation of The Great Gatsby for NES.

While my parents likely looked up on my role-playing period with suspicion, I did turn out to be a reader (though I’ll be honest and say I’m not much interested in fantasy these days). Will the parents of today nod with approval as their child takes on the avatar of an orc and sets out to on a video adventure confident that it may one day lead them to read Thomas Mann’s literary classic, Death in Venice?

I think so. After all, it’s the obsession with story that turns a person into a reader. Parks admits that he never really played D&D all that much, it was really just a means for free-associative storytelling, a “prop for narrative.”

BONUS: Check out WIRED Magazine’s list of ten classic novels that should be turned into games.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.