Canon Fodder: Could Great Literature Ever Make for Great Gaming, Asks Helen Lewis-Hasteley
Lewis-Hasteley, Helen, New Statesman (1996)
Forget about being a "boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past". How about experiencing The Great Gatsby as a digital Nick Carraway, fighting off hordes of Charleston enthusiasts with a weaponised trilby? Well, now you can. A retro shoot' em-up version of this American literary classic, which you can play at greatgatsbygame.com, has just gone viral. You can move your pixellated Nick around using the arrow keys and space bar, and press Z to deploy your hat against the massed ranks of the 1920s bourgeoisie.
The reason for the game's success is simple: there's something inherently amusing about the idea of a work as starchy and revered as Gatsby being given the pop-culture treatment. But is the idea of a crossover between literature and video games really such a silly one? After all, films--which were once regarded with the same bemusement and suspicion as games are now--regularly plunder the literary canon.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there were plenty such adaptations, from a Commodore 64 sequel to Fahrenheit 451 (approved by Ray Bradbury) to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on the Super Nintendo.
As the cutting-edge became more technically sophisticated--and big publishers became more reliant on the action and fantasy genres to shift millions of units--the idea got left behind. Who'd want to play a text adventure based on The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy when you could shoot aliens, drive racing cars or go on raiding parties with your fellow orcs?
A scan of the Guardian's Top 50 games of the 2000s reveals that none is explicitly based on a book--although one of my favourites, Bioshock, skilfully took elements from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. …