Video games are their own literary genre driven by narrative and story. As my colleague and friend Katie Egan Cunningham states, “Stories surround us, support us, and sustain us.” Whether you are gamer in search of a good story or books to hook your gamer -students, here are 8 young adult books worth reading that tap into gaming, puzzles, ciphers, quests, and LARPs.
It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett (Nerdist, 2016) is about two friends who get caught in a LARP (Live Action Role Play) gone wrong. Not long after the adventure begins, the friends find themselves transported from Earth to a world filled with both magic and danger. Suddenly, what Alison expected to be a weekend being geeky turns into a fight for survival against brigands, kobolds, and other nasty characters as the group tries to finish their mission or at least get back home.
In Click Here to Start by Denis Markell (Delacorte Press, 2016) twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2012) has popped up on many high school summer reading lists and my students would tell you this book does not disappoint. Set in the year 2044, where reality is an ugly place, teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s in the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines–puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win–and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
Steven Spielberg is directing a film version of this book that has a release date of March 2018.
Laura Ruby’s book new series York: Book One the Shadow Cipher (Walden Pond Press, 2017) takes readers on an exciting treasure hunt through a city’s past to save the future. The protagonists, two twin siblings and their neighbor journey around New York and into the city’s past, both real and fantastical, as they encounter a henchman, delve into the bowels of the Old York Cipherist Society (a group of either learned scholars or paranoid cranks), and try to decide whom they can trust. Along the way, there’s action and peril, including a scene involving a giant mechanical insect that eats dirt and sometimes people; but at key junctures, it’s each child’s individual talents that lead him or her to solve a particular element of the puzzle.
Looking for more adventure and games? Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron Books, 2017) mentions the game of life and love throughout this story about a dark carnival organized by the notorious Legend. Protagonist Scarlet and her sister sneak away from their father and their home to attend and play at the Caraval. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find her sister Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.
The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold by Traci Chee (Penguin Random House, 2016), my FAVORITE book this year, is exploding with puzzles and adventure. After Sefia’s father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible. This November the next installment is out, The Speaker: Book Two of Sea of Ink and Gold — I cannot wait!!
Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (First Second Books, 2016) is a graphic novel that explores the history of Tetris and unravels the complex history to dive into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce.
Another graphic novel, Level Up (First Second Books,2016) by Gene Luen Yang presents a coming of age story of the dilemma of personal goals verses parental approval. More specifically, video games vs. medical school!