“My husband, who is a crime writer, and I were planning on writing a book together, but it didn’t work. We ended up fighting like dogs.”
What she didn’t reveal is that the inspiration for her next novel was a video game! To celebrate the publication of her book Ripper, check out these five other novels with virtual reality origins.
1. Snow Crash
Titled after an Apple Computer failure mode, Snow Crash takes place in a world where the Internet has been succeeded by Metaverse, an all-encompassing virtual reality where players use avatars to interact with other users. While Stephenson has not said that he was influenced by any specific video game, his Metaverse shares a lot with the MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) that were coming out just a few years before.
More significant is his impact on MMO, MMORPGs, and the Internet itself. “Metaverse” is now the word for a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users; MMORPGs all use avatars as the players’ representation. While you can’t yet insert your consciousness into the games, with every new game they try and make it as immersive as possible. Furthermore, multiple sources agree that Snow Crash directly inspired Google Earth.
Pac-Man, et. al.
It’s no surprise that Ernest Cline draws heavily on 1980s video games in Ready Player One, since both he and the novel’s Willy Wonka-esque billionaire James Halliday came of age during that wonderful decade. The “egg hunters” searching for Halliday’s billion-dollar Easter egg have to battle through games of Pac-Man, Joust, Zork, and more—not to mention reenacting the plots of ‘80s films like War Games!
3. For the Win
World of Warcraft
Part of what got people talking about Doctorow’s 2010 novel was his focus on the real-world labor issue of gold-farming, or acquiring in-game currency to then exchange for actual money. Though WoW might be the most well-known example, developing countries used plenty of MMOs to pursue gold-farming before it was declared illegal. For the Win had such an impact that some readers have attempted to develop a fair-trade marketplace for gold-farming.
Dungeons & Dragons
With her 1991 novel User Unfriendly, Vivian Vande Velde was way ahead of the curve: Six years before the term ” MMORPG” was coined, Vande Velde dreamed up an adventure where a group of teenagers play out a fantasy game inspired by Dungeons & Dragons but in a virtual reality setting. At the time, D&D wasn’t yet mainstream, but Vande Velde recognized its popularity, and how it could evolve: Citing the long wait between turns to roll dice, she said that she decided to “set the story just far enough into the future where the kids could be playing a type of game beyond virtual reality.” Her follow-up, Heir Apparent, pokes fun at the video games where your character dies over and over.
Rings of Orbis
In 2008, PJ Haarsma noticed that things were changing. “You can’t just make a book anymore,” he told The New York Times—at least, not if you wanted reluctant readers to pick it up. His novel The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 works hard to recreate a video game-like environment that is more richly interactive than a traditional novel. In the book, a group of orphaned children are left on their own in outer space to advance through the four Rings of Orbis, which function much like levels in a video game. The prose itself recalls the perspective of a video game player, and the novel has a free online RPG where readers can further engage with the content.
When Isabel Allende wanted to retire, her agent insisted she write one last time: a crime novel with her mystery writer husband, William C. Gordon. “Almost immediately, we knew that we would end up killing each other instead of the literary victims of our potential novel,” Allende shared of their brief co-authorship. Gordon retreated to his room to write on his own, while Allende searched for an idea. “Inspiration came when I saw my grandchildren playing Ripper, an online role-playing game set in 1880 London and dedicated to catching Jack the Ripper,” she said. The video game plays a key role in her novel, as teenage protagonist Amanda is more than a little addicted to Ripper. When strange murders begin occurring across San Francisco, Amanda applies the tactics she learned in the virtual world to the real-life case.