I've been a reader most of my life, but my first love in escapism was video games. The classics that came out in the 90s and 2000s framed my childhood. I still play my PS1 and Game Boy Color quite often, and I mourn my Xbox that finally died on me just over a year ago now.
The video games from this era were pioneers in the epic adventure and action packed games we've come to know today. These games moved on from the static (yet still fantastic) arcade-style games and began to tackle some rather hard-hitting moral dilemmas while our characters are on their adventures. Many of these stories helped shape my current reading tastes. I love a good book/game set in a fantastical world that is actually important commentary relevant in real life.
So, without further ado, I'd like to take this time to recommend books based on some of my (and hopefully your) favorite video games growing up.
I will always love The Sims. My personal introduction to the franchise was through The Sims Bustin' Out on the Xbox and PS2, but I did eventually get to play the original title. I maintain that the PC games are far superior to the console versions, but they still hold a special place in my heart.
Honestly what are the odds of so many people adoring a game about mundane life? Do we all have a god complex? I mean really, at its core, The Sims is all about making a person eat, sleep, crap, and shower over and over again. It astounds even myself that I still continuously play games from the franchise. Yet, The Sims is one of the most popular games out there, and it has produced countless spin-offs for us to enjoy.
I recommend Going Bovine by Libba Bray
On surface level, The Sims is all about simulating a mundane life. If you've played the game, you know it is so much more than that. A game may start out completely normal, but it seldom stays that way. Even when you enter the game promising yourself you won't even use rosebud, let alone motherlode... you always cave. (Or am I just weak-willed?) No matter how normal you try to be, you always end up best friends with the grim reaper, abducted by aliens, followed around by an evil clone, crowned llama king, carrying the child of the resident ghost, or questioning the sudden appearance of a malevolent garden gnome.
Going Bovine has the same spirit as The Sims. Cameron just wants to finish high school and go through life as normally and simply as possible. Things are going quite to plan until he's sick and told he's going to die. Of all the things to get sick from, Cameron contracts mad cow disease. Now suddenly, Cameron must leave his low effort lifestyle to seek out a cure prophesied to him by a punk rock angel that may or may not be a hallucination. He teams up with a gamer dwarf and a garden gnome for the road trip of a lifetime. Normal? HA! It's like leaving your Sims on autonomy mode with the creepy garden gnome as the babysitter. You're in for one wild ride.
Super Mario World
Though Super Mario World came out before I was conceived, it was still a favorite of mine as a child. I spent many hours on both this and Yoshi's Island. The Mario franchise, I feel, played a large role in video game evolution. It was here that story arcs began to grow more intricate, and more thought was put into the uniqueness and aesthetic of different levels.
I recommend Locke and Key by Joe Hill
What Super Mario World did best was in its ability to create incredibly rich and atmospheric worlds. Within each level, the player can also experience unique game mechanics, such as flying, swimming, riding Yoshi, running, etc. Such dynamic mechanics were revolutionary in the gaming world at the time.
Locke and Key thrusts the reader into a world rich with details. The depth of the characters and plot, coupled with the breathtaking art style creates such a fantastic atmospheric read.
The Locke family travels to Mr. Locke's childhood home, Keyhouse, to try to find peace after witnessing his horrific and brutal murder. What they find there is far from it. When the Locke children begin finding keys that transform them (not too differently than mushrooms and feathers in Mario), they realize there was far more to their father's past than they ever envisioned. Perhaps Keyhouse could help the children come to terms with their father's passing after all... or perhaps a dark and mysterious presence at Keyhouse has other plans for the Locke children.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
I think the Spyro trilogy will always be my favorite from childhood. I have a particular fondness for Spyro: Year of the Dragon. I'm apparently one of few with this opinion. Just because I'm not in the majority, does not mean I'm wrong! How could you not love this game? You get to experience countless game mechanics and plenty of new characters. Most Year of the Dragon haters are particularly set against the expanse of mini-games embedded within each level. Personally, I find all of the quirky games to be quite charming. To each their own, I suppose.
We will, of course, agree that all of the bastardizations following this trilogy simply don't exist... right? Great.
I recommend Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Okay don't roll your eyes yet. I know what this looks like. "Sure Lori, just recommend a book about a dragon to go with the dragon game. Real original." Yes, Eragon is set in a world where dragons play a huge role, but the parallels run deeper than that!
In a country run by the corrupt Galbatorix, Eragon must make a yearly hunting trip to the cursed mountains in order to find enough food for his family, or otherwise they will starve on their farm. A magnificent blue stone appears suddenly in the valley and scares away the hunt. However, Eragon takes the precious-looking stone home to trade for money. That one decision changes his life forever, as the stone turns out to be an egg from the long extinct dragons. Now, it's up to Eragon to unearth the secrets of the Dragon Riders and bring peace back to the world. Similarly to Spyro in Year of the Dragon, Eragon and his dragon must learn to face the cruel realities of tyranny, the abuse of magic and resources, rebellion, and the impact the dragons' disappearance has on the world around them.
This one is a little bit of a fib. I tried on occasion to pick up Myst as a kid, but I couldn't comprehend what it was I was supposed to do. I didn't figure this one's charm out until much more recently on the DS. It was, however, a game more popular when I was a child, so it stays on this list.
Myst is a wholly unique game, and it's no wonder I didn't have the patience for it as a little human. It relies on the player's ability to be absolutely thorough while exploring an area, as well as the player's ability to become absorbed in puzzles and lore. Myst does a fantastic job of creating a unique world where the player must teleport from place to place and unravel the secrets of the great adventurer Atrus.
I recommend Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
The unnamed MC of Myst is tasked with exploring teleportation and a traveler's studies. So to, is Etta Spencer in Passenger. However, she isn't just following a stranger's footsteps, but her own mother's.
On the night of Etta Spencer's debut as a violinist prodigy, the piercing notes of her concerto opens up a portal spanning both time and space. The portal lands her in New York amidst the American Revolution, and far from everyone she loves. To make matters worse, she finds out she is the heiress of an epic time traveler's legacy, which makes her the target of many angry rival families. Sailor Nicholas Carter and Etta are brought together by chance to race through time and space to find a mysterious artifact and appease the dangerous Ironwood family's wishes.
Alas, here we have the classic game that sparked an extensive and timeless franchise. I think Silent Hill often gets overlooked by fan favorites like Resident Evil, which also has its own massive franchise. This game is one of few PS1 games that have an overall vibe and playability similar to the modern games of today's console. It's like a Stephen King novel brought to life.
No, I'm not going to throw a Stephen King recommendation at you, that's too predictable. The creatures you encounter as you venture through the town were utterly terrifying to me as a child, and I did everything I could to milk out the calm and avoid those fights. For that reason, I did consider recommending Birdbox. However, this book got plenty of attention recently with its own movie adaptation. I then settled on something that not enough people are giving their love to.
I recommend Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chobosky
Silent Hill does a fantastic job of twisting reality in such a way that the player questions what is real or not. The world slowly shifts before your eyes into a more and more distorted and grotesque variation as the game goes on. The characters handle these changes and try to adapt to survive. With the novelty of varied endings, all of this creates the perfectly atmospheric horror game that was, quite frankly, ahead of its time.
I think this book is one that's best gone into knowing very little, so you do need to take a bit of a leap of faith with this recommendation. I will instead give you the Goodreads blurb below. What I will say is that Imaginary Friend has an extremely similar energy as Silent Hill, and will prove to keep you on the edge of your seat guessing as well.
"Imagine... Leaving your house in the middle of the night. Knowing your mother is doing her best, but she's just as scared as you.
Imagine... Starting a new school, making friends. Seeing how happy it makes your mother. Hearing a voice, calling out to you.
Imagine... Following the signs, into the woods. Going missing for six days. Remembering nothing about what happened.
Imagine... Something that will change everything... And having to save everyone you love."
And there you have it! Above are five book recommendations based on classic 90s-2000's video games that shaped the childhoods of many a Millennial. Obviously, with only five recommendations, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Never fear! More is on the way soon!