Monday, July 8, 2013

Gaming Fiction

I have a question for the fantasy readers out there: How do you view gaming fiction? What I mean is, where on the heirarchy of literature do novels based on role-playing games (like D&D) fall? This question comes to mind for a couple of reasons. First of all, a few weeks ago I was on Goodreads looking at some of my favorite books, giving them ratings, and a few reviews. And while reading some of the reviews for the Dragonlance Chronicles, I was disheartened to see so many disparraging comments regarding this trilogy, and gaming fiction in general.

Most of the commentary seemed to be pretty dismissive (even if backhanded), and the books are viewed as nothing more than geeks talking about their roleplaying sessions and their favorite characters. As anyone who has actually read these books should know, this couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, there are certain conventions that refer back to the game rules. But really, how is that different than any other fantasy (or genre) fiction? When an author writes a genre story, he sets out specific rules and parameters for how things like magic and religion work within the world of his writing. Just because, in the case of gaming fiction, those rules are actually written in detail, and in the context of a game, doesn't change the fact that they are still rules, and that the characters are still characters.

That being said, I will concede that some gaming fiction seems to step over the line, and come across as a description of a gaming session. However, the higher quality works do not do this. They are fully realized works of fiction that stand alone, and I would wager that the better stuff is on par with more "literary" genre fiction.

The other reason this comes up is that I am starting work on an epic fantasy trilogy. The premise and many of the ideas are closely related to my gaming experience. Now, my trilogy is going to be set in an original world, and will have no actual connection to D&D per se. However, I can foresee some people looking at it and making the connection anyways. And therefore, it could be just dismissed as "gaming fiction" and forgotten by non-gamers. I'd like to avoid that, if possible (assuming I can motivate my lazy ass into writing the damn thing).

I'm not really sure what I'm asking as far as my own writing is concerned. But, I thought it might be good to get some others' perspectives on game-related fiction as a whole to begin with.


Keith West said...

I've read very little gaming related fiction, so I'm probably not very qualified to comment on this. I think if a book is written a by writer who cares about the story and the characters, and is capable of putting sentences and paragraphs together in a competent manner, then it doesn't matter if the book is based on a game. I've never gotten very deep into gaming simply due to time considerations. The few gaming novels I've read in the last year have (by Keith Baker and Ari Marmell) were both good solid stories that were able to stand on their own. If I didn't know they were game related before I started them, then I wouldn't have been able to tell from the writing.

So, to answer your question in a concise manner, it will depend on the author.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think some of the earliest gaming fiction was written by writers who were kind of amateurish, and that gave it a bad name. Modern gaming fiction is more likely to be written by pro writers who are being paid decently. AT least I suspect this is the case.

Tom Doolan said...

There's definitely some truth to that, Charles. If you go back and read the book by Gary Gygax (available on the very cheap at most used book stores), they are nowhere near as good as the ones that came later. They definitely fall into the "This one time my character..." category.

Sometime in the late 80's or early 90's something shifted, and talented writers came into the game, so to speak. Some are hit or miss, but probably no more so than the scads of non-RPG game books.

The modern trend seems to be as you describe it, Keith. I just hate to see narrow-minded people who see the "Forgotten Realms" logo at the top of a novel, and dismiss the book without another glance.