One of my fondest memories from my childhood is that of long days spent hunched in front of the TV, my NES controller sweaty in my hands as I tried fruitlessly to conquer whatever Mario level I was playing at the time. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 when I started playing, but it brought a kind of joy to my life that was unmatched. It was me saving the princess, fighting dragons, and exploring new lands, and it opened my eyes to new kinds of entertainment.
Over the years, I’ve evolved as a gamer. I’ve seen the transition from 2d sprites to fully-realized 3d worlds. I’ve played good games and bad. I’ve refined my tastes and discovered the satisfaction that comes from beating a game after a particularly hard final boss (here’s looking at you, Kingdom Hearts!). And a couple years ago, I accomplished my life-long goal of finally beating the original Super Mario Bros. game that stumped me throughout my childhood!
I love gaming with a passion unmatched by almost anything else, but one of the hobbies I love slightly more is reading. When those two things come together, I fall hard. Every. Single. Time. Anything can happen in a video game, the more outrageous the better, which gives authors an unrestricted amount of freedom to create a living universe peopled with amazing characters and peppered with allusions and references that can make the nerdiest among us swoon with delight. Here are just a few of my personal favorites!
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
In a futuristic world in which alien invasions and wars are the norm, Ender Wiggins is bred to be a genius and then drafted into a rigorous training program. Torn away from his parents and family, Ender’s new home is the Battle School, where recruits are divided into teams to hold mock battles and test their military strategy. Facing pressure and loneliness, Ender develops as a leader who could hold the fate of the world in his hands. An oldie but goodie, Ender’s Game has definitely stood the test of time, even spawning a recent film adaptation. Orson Scott Card was the recipient of the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award for his significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens.
- Erebos by Ursula Poznanski
Erebos is a game. One that you can’t buy. A game that watches you and knows you and influences you. When rumors of this game begin to float around the halls of Nick’s school, he becomes desperate to get his hands on it. The only catch is that someone has to invite you to play the game. When he does finally obtain a copy, he immediately gets hooked, playing for hours on end. But when the game enters the real world, Nick must reexamine what he thinks he knows…and what he’s willing to do for the sake of a game.
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2012 Alex Award)
As the earth slowly sinks into decline, most of the world’s population retreats into the virtual world of the OASIS. When the creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a game – the first person to find the Easter Egg he left behind in the OASIS will inherit his entire fortune and the control of his company and the OASIS itself. To do this, players must find three keys, which open three gates. Wade Watts is one of these players. A loving homage to ’80s culture, this book is the nerdiest of them all. Liberally sprinkled throughout with allusions to gaming, movies, comics, and more, reading the book is pure pleasure. And for movie fans, an adaptation is planned, with Steven Spielberg at the helm.
- Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
Heir Apparent is the hottest virtual reality game around – and also one of the most difficult. There are many ways to die and few pathways to safety and victory. But unless Giannine manages to find the magic ring, locate the treasure, and defeat a dragon, she’s going to die…in real life. She’s trapped in the game, facing down the clock and desperately trying to survive.
- In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang (2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)
Coarsegold Online, a popular massively-multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), is Anda’s favorite game. Online, she can create a whole new persona and make new friends. So she joins a guild and starts playing missions designed to wipe out characters who are collecting powerful items illegally and then selling them for real-life profit. But when she meets one of these players – a poverty-stricken Chinese kid whose livelihood depends on his game performance, she realizes that black and white might actually be more blurry than she thinks.
- Armada by Ernest Cline
Zack Lightman has grown up playing video games. His favorite game is Armada, an aviation simulator with the premise that its players must join the Earth Defense Alliance and protect Earth from alien invasion. But when an EDA ship lands in front of his school, Zack is shocked to learn that it’s all real. That Armada was a simulator designed to train and recruit the best gamers in the world. And that he must play a role in defending the world.
Bonus! Video Games Invade the Big Screen!
- The Guild – Starring Felicia Day, this mini web series is about a quirky group of online gamers who end up meeting in real life. As an added bonus, the series is now available to stream on Netflix!
- The Quest – I’ll admit that I’m something of a reality game show junkie. So The Quest really caught my attention when I realized that it takes contestants, puts them into a fully-scripted fantasy world, and lets them live out their dreams of slaying Orcs, meeting the Fates, and defeating the final boss. One season is on Netflix, and I really hope more are coming soon!
- Sword Art Online – For anime fans, Sword Art Online is similar to Heir Apparent. Players get trapped in the virtual reality game world and must conquer the game to stay alive!
-Jancee Wright, currently reading Seraphina by Rachel Hartman