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Other People’s Stories

March 4th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Feature, Gamespy

In what is hopefully the first of many features for GameSpy, I look at the art of literary adaptation in game design.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Jason

    Enjoyed the piece Troy, but the line about Tolkien being the grandfather of all fantasy literature is a bit wide of the mark. There exists decades of work in fantastic literature that traces back to authors like Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, Burroughs, Dunsany, Hodgeson, etc., all with their work predating Tolkien by a number of years.

    Of course, I do agree with the point you were striving for, that being most popular fantasy, and certainly the world of fantasy games, is chained tighly to Tolkien’s tidy little world of elfs and dwarfs and hobbits.

  • Troy

    A generalization on my part of course (and I had wanted to speak to someone that did adapt Poe to a casual game), but I was speaking of the fantasy that we find most often in games – kings, wizards, elves, great evils and magical McGuffins set in an internally consistent world. Tarzan and Conan are the closest we have to that sort of thing before Middle Earth (and Narnia contemporaneous with that), but only Tolkien has spawned archetypes that are recognizable.

    It’s not that Tolkien did not have predecessors as much as it is that his legacy is so huge and immediately recognizable. For me, calling Tolkien the grandfather of fantasy is no more controversial than calling Spalding the father of baseball (though he didn’t invent it) or Ford the grandfather of the automobile industry.

  • Zer0s

    Yeah I think by now there should be no trouble calling Tolkien that.

    Nice surprise to see you getting ‘printed’ in gamespy, hope it brings more people back here while also upping the quality level of gamespy, which has had its ups and downs as of late.

    It’d also be amusing to dwell longer in this and see the differences in adaptation designs from a pre 2000 era vs previous gen/current generation games. i.e. I’m thinking BFME/War of the Ring versus the old LOTR games. I’m sure there were many more adaptations back then.

  • Alan Au

    It’s much easier to borrow a setting and inherit the lore than it is to establish everything from scratch. Even “new” franchises inevitably borrow from their spiritual predecessors, as a way to expedite the process of content creation. I can talk about Orcs and the reader will automatically inherit a mental image of what that means. It’s a mental shortcut, both for the author and the reader. Of course it can unintentionally backfire, or if the writer is clever, provide an opportunity for turnabout.

    Actually, that makes me think of an interesting topic: how are humans portrayed in games, especially in contrast to other sentient species? Somehow humans end up as part of some grand zero-sum equation, most often playing the role of the “promising underdog.” I chalk it up to just another story trope, alongside their paladins and space marines.

  • Chris Floyd

    I always thought the most common role for humans in a fantasy or science fantasy setting was to be the flexible generalist. Elves are agile and smart, dwarves are stocky and strong, humans are… either? both? balanced? Not inappropriately, it’s a very anthropocentric view, right? Elves just occupy this sector of human potential, dwarves occupy that one, etc. etc.

  • Scott R. Krol

    I’m curious if anyone unfamiliar with the original work is now seeking out the Random House book because of the game. I’m all for anything that gets people to read more and it doesn’t bother me if the launching platform is an action-adventure game or any other medium outside of a literature class in school. Heck, I’m sure Iron Maiden introduced a lot of folks to Samuel Taylor Coledridge which would have normally not have read his works.