Could Turning Books into Video Games Make Them More Accessible?

While turning books into video games is often seen as ‘dumbing down’ – but could there be unexpected benefits?

Usually, around the time of a big movie release or when a book does particularly well, fans can expect it to be turned into some kind of game. For example, superhero films are often accompanied by a game that augments the movie through branded content, and also further the world of the superhero through additional canon material. Super-fans want to absorb everything they can about a film or book they love, and turning it into a game allows them to access the franchise in a different way. But could this be a secret force for good?

No, we’re not advocating that Jane Austen books be turned into Nintendo Switch games to help with book reports. Firstly, it’s not clear where the game play would come from, and how would the subtlety of the subtext be translated? But, if the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were turned into a game – with added zombies – then players could understand the book on a whole different level, without even realising the game was secretly educational. This works backwards, too. Take The Hunger Games. The popular book series, and the even more popular movie franchise is perfect fodder for gamification.

Minecraft’s version of the Hunger Games – although only very vaguely inspired by the books – works and attracts new fans, so why not a game more directly inspired by Katniss Everdeen? And then, a fan of the game may seek to find out what inspired the game and the movie – so read the book. Thus, the game brings in fresh fans and players and then takes them back to the source material, embracing literature with perhaps more excitement than before.

But turning older books and movies into games has added benefits: educational ones. For example, the Titanic and Cleopatra slot games found on many bingo sites act not only as a fun way to the pass the time, but can teach the younger generation about things that they might not otherwise know about. The games keep stories alive by infusing them with a hint of high-tech appeal. Perhaps younger people wouldn’t necessarily flock to see a film about Cleopatra, but turning the historical figure into a game they play anyway helps them discover Ancient Egypt and beyond.

As source material, various aspects of history, or even geography, science, and maths, are interesting. The format they are delivered in is sometimes off-putting to many young people. The story of the Tudors is exciting, but the way in which it is taught at school may dilute students’ enthusiasm. If Henry VIII’s story were a game, like The Sims – with decision to make on executions, foreign policy and dealing with the Pope –  players would inadvertently soak up knowledge.

And this could work too for issues that are less likely to be eagerly learned in schools. Such games can relate to difficult periods and clashes in history which are still fundamental for a well-rounded perspective on the world, such as Civil Rights, WWII, and the fight for LGBT rights, etc. However, gamification could inadvertently reduce the important and often harrowing incidents to merely trivial aspects of a clicking or tapping game. The fine line between making key issues into games to subtly educate and using serious issues for a bit of cartoon fun is a difficult one to straddle; coming up with a carefully written and designed game ensures a specific, controlled experience, which should be created with the help of social sciences scholars.

But, if Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were turned into a game – with added zombies – then players could understand the book on a whole different level, without even realising the game was secretly educational.

Turning literary works into video games, however, would definitely work. Reimagining Shakespeare in Space, or Oliver Twist as a VR game, would allow players to connect with subjects that they wouldn’t normally in their daily lives. In fact, both have the quirky, fun but informative appeal associated with shows like Doctor Who. For example, the success of The Lion King (based on Hamlet) and Pocahontas and Mulan (based on real-life stories) show that subtly educating the young people helps them interact with topics outside their direct spheres.

Schools would likely agree that turning Shakespeare’s catalogue into levelling-up games would help struggling children understand key concepts and give a good grounding in a way they can respond to. Sometimes having children watch the stage play doesn’t help the story sink in as much as playing the story themselves does.

Turning books and parts of history into games would be the way forward. In the same way that films and interactive whiteboards have been introduced to schooling, there is no reason that adding games in couldn’t also be the next step.

‘Edutainment’ is already a buzzword in education circles, but an increasing focus on games associated with books can inspire a love for literature and non-fiction alike.

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