Book List: Fiction for Gamers
Why do we love games? The high-octane fun? The easy access to discovery, adventure, challenge, and endless other draws? Sure. Yes to all of that. But the real kicker? It’s the infinite possibilities. The magical sandbox to play in. A person can imagine any kind of world they want, and with enough blood, sweat, and tears put into making it, other people are able to experience that same world…
Huh. Sounds a lot like books, doesn’t it?
The mediums of books and games can be quite different, but mix them together with the perfect recipe—dazzling plot and characters paired with the limitless possibilities of games—you end up with some real gems. So here’s a list I’ve put together of some of the best gaming/book hybrids out there, for anyone into games or well-crafted stories.
The Eye of Minds (The Mortality Doctrine #1) by James Dashner (Corgi Children's)
You may have heard of James Dashner’s wildly popular YA series, The Maze Runner, but did you know he’s also written a series set within a virtual reality game? Think Ready Player One, but without all the pop culture references, and with a bit more of a dive into the potential consequences of a VR-obsessed world.
Michael’s hacking skills—infinitely more potent in a virtual world—are noticed by the government, and he is recruited to help hunt down a mysterious player who is holding other gamers hostage in the VirtNet, leaving them consequently brain-dead.
I like this one as an alternative take on virtual reality as compared to Ready Player One. They’re both fast-paced and easy to read, but The Eye of Minds felt like less wish-fulfilment and more an exploration of virtual reality games and the effect they can have on people.
Warcross by Marie Lu (Penguin)
My personal favourite on this list, Warcross explores a huge part of gaming that’s rarely covered in stories. Competition. Esports. The esports element wasn’t the only storyline, but it was a big enough part of the story to quench my own thirst for competition-based stories.
Emika Chen is an incredibly competent teenage girl whose personality and visual description just jump off the page. She’s a hacker, (I know, it seems to be a trend), and a bounty-hunter, chasing down illegal betters making money from the esport, Warcross. But after getting caught hacking her way into the Warcross Championships, she’s flown to Japan to meet the game’s creator, Hideo Tanaka.
There is a little romance in this one, but don’t unplug just yet. Marie Lu writes her romances in a way that ties heavily into the plot, and by the end of the book you’ll be happy it was there, even if it’s really not your thing. Besides, the rest of the story follows Emika being a spy, competing in Warcross, and uncovering the twists and turns of a mystery that might be just a smidgeon out of her league.
Otherworld (Last Reality #1) by Jason Segel and Kirstin Miller (Oneworld)
If you’ve made your way through Ready Player One and The Eye of Minds already, but find yourself craving more VR gaming, don’t sweat. Otherworld and its sequels are sure to satisfy. This one hits on similar themes to The Eye of Minds, questioning the possibilities of VR technology and whether or not the world is ready for it.
Simon’s childhood friend, Kat, is plugged into Otherworld after an accident leaves her unresponsive. After discovering that the company behind Otherworld has sinister intentions, Simon sneaks into the game in an attempt to save his friend.
I will note, Otherworld does get a bit of criticism levelled at it for being derivative, mostly in comparison to Tad Williams’ Otherland. I haven’t read the Tad Williams series myself, so I’ll have to leave that up to you to decide. But if you’re here for VR gaming, you’ll likely enjoy Otherworld all the same.
Erebos by Ursula Poznanski, translated by Judith Pattinson (Allen & Unwin)
The consequences of advancements in technology are on full display in Erebos, and it reads more like a Black Mirrorepisode than a fun romp through a gaming world. However, it is about a game, and it’s addictive all the same.
Basically, Erebos is a game that requires you to complete tasks in the real world in order to advance further in the game, and the deeper the main character goes, the more intense the tasks get. This one is certifiably creepy, and I’d recommend it to people that like a bit of psychological horror, so maybe don’t pick it up if you’re easily paranoid.
Erebos was originally written in German and is now translated into English. The translation does leave some stiltedness in the prose in parts, but the story is enticing enough that it won’t bother you for long.
Wonderscape by Jennifer Bell (Walker Books)
A middle-grade gaming novel! I haven’t come across many of these, so I was excited to pick up Wonderscape when I found it. It’s perfect for younger gamers/readers out there, and also a nice return to some wholesome, engaging content for anyone that’s burnt out on the more intense books listed above.
To me, Wonderscape felt like one giant, immersive escape room. If you’ve ever gone and done an escape room with friends, you’ll notice some similarities in this story, but pumped up to the next level. We follow three kids who slip into a gaming world and have to solve issues related to the characters and location before moving on to the next exciting setting. It’s fast and fun, and really captures that sense of limitless possibilities I love in gaming.
Stuck in the Game by Christopher Keene (Future House Publishing)
So how about something by a New Zealand author? I haven’t come across a huge amount of gaming related books here in New Zealand—I’m officially issuing a plea to authors and publishers on this, more gaming novels please—and Stuck in the Game isn’t even an exception, as it’s published overseas, but it is written by New Zealand author Christopher Keene.
The protagonist, Noah, is forced into a VR MMORPG called the Dream State. If you aren’t familiar with all the acronyms, imagine World of Warcraft, but you get to feel like you’re physically playing it. The story mirrors the progression system of the video games we know and love, with Noah trying to grow stronger and reach harder levels. Gamers will feel right at home while reading.
Slay by Brittney Morris (Hodder Children’s Books)
Slay is a recent release that I haven’t yet had the chance to read, but boy does it sound good. It follows a teen girl named Kiera and an online multiplayer game called SLAY. We all know that games come in all shapes and sizes, and fit into endless categories and genres. I was hooked by this concept because the game it features is an online card game! Looking at you, Hearthstone fans.
This is also an #ownvoices story about a Black girl, and appears to be heavily intertwined with social and political issues related to race. A refreshing perspective for a gaming-related novel, and one I’m excited to dive into.
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames (Orbit)
Okay, okay, so this is technically an adult fantasy book, and doesn’t even focus on video games, but I had to mention it as a sort of gaming-adjacent book. If you like video games, there’s a very real chance you also like Dungeons and Dragons. And if you like D&D, you’ll love Kings of the Wyld.
We follow a group of retired adventurers as they get the band back together for one last hurrah. It has all the ridiculous personalities you’ll find in your own D&D games, and really captures the spirit of adventure, companionship, and hilarity of a D&D campaign. It’s got tons of references to classic rock music, and takes some inspiration from Final Fantasy in its worldbuilding—I’m talking airships, people, airships! Even if it’s for adults, there’s nothing stopping teens from reading, so long as you don’t mind a lot of strong language.
Kieran Shipley is a budding writer, specialising in speculative fiction stories for children and young adults. Originally from Blenheim, he came to Wellington in 2016 to pursue a couple of degrees in film and creative writing, and apparently hasn’t gotten sick of walking uphill yet. The lovely people at The Children’s Bookshop were kind enough to let him babble to people about books for a while as a part-time bookseller, and now he’s starting a new chapter of his life working with the content team at Xero. Outside of books and writing, he’s spent much of his time and energy competing in and organising Super Smash. Bros tournaments, and more recently playing enough volleyball to make his legs quite unhappy with him.