I’m going to lay my dirty little secret right out there; I love video games. Since I am a woman of a certain age, and a librarian, most people react with shock and astonishment. I can hear the words, “what’s wrong with you?” trembling on their lips. At ComicCon a few years I obtained the high score on a video game (with a Wii controller, no less, a platform I was not then that familiar with) and the twenty-year-old stared at me as if I’d sprouted wings.
Although I enjoy the Tekken and Street Fighter Series, I don’t play Call of Duty or Halo. I’ve played all the Guitar Hero games, though, and I love the role players. Why, you ask? Aren’t they a waste of time? Well, I love them for some of the same reasons I love crime fiction, and I expect the same things from both formats.
A good puzzle is key. When Doom came out in the ’90s, I would clear the boards of all the demons and floating heads and other monsters and start looking for secret rooms, stashes of weapons, and of course the always important health packs. I aimed for a score of 100 percent of secrets uncovered. Not that I got there very often but I tried.
An entertaining story is important; a story that I can play over and over and still find something new. I played every single one of the Final Fantasy games up to XII, over and over with each different character, enjoying the different nuances to the story. Same for Dragon Age, which took me almost a year, on and off.
Good characters are extremely important to me. I want to engage with at least the lead character and care about them. The Portal games have great puzzles but I find the characters, such as they are, a little chilly. Most people don’t think of video games including interesting characters but the best games certainly do. Tomb Raider was almost life changing for me. All those wonderful secrets, bad guys, and a woman as the main character: Man, a gamer’s life doesn’t get any better. I admit it; some of the jumps and her use of motorcycles and other equipment were so difficult I spent months trying to beat each game. Some days I spent more time watching the level load, after I died for the millionth time, than playing. Honesty forces me to admit as well, that I did not find all of the secrets. Not once. But I proudly swear that I have played every Tomb Raider game to the end and won.
And the sheer variety within both crime fiction and video games keeps me enthralled. I read Joanna Fluke and Henning Mankell, Laura Childs and Michael Connelly. I play Sonic and Silent Hill (I never did manage to save the little girl). Sometimes I am in the mood to go into the darkness, other times I want something lighter. I want my murder set against a coffee shop or I want to pick up the game and hear the golden rings count up.
Finally, most of the mysteries and games I like have positive endings: the detective, whether it is Harry Bosch or Hercule Poirot, sends the murderer to justice. The protagonist in the game likewise must wrap up the quest. After fighting off scores of enemies and uncovering puzzles and collecting treasure along the way, he or she defeats the Evil Big Boss, usually saving the world in the process He then presumably lives happily ever after—or at least, until the next game.
A game that I feel scores high in everything but the very final scene, and has been terribly underrated, is Enslaved. Another role player in a dystopian future, the game follows the two primary characters: Monkey (now there’s a name for you) and female companion Trip find their way through the crumbling ruins of human cities, fighting off dangerous Mechs (robots) to find a safe haven at the end. Which, of course, isn’t so safe. Andy Sirkis plays Monkey and the other male characters. I encourage all gamers who don’t know this game to check it out.
The best video games, like some of my favorite books, have it all: good puzzles, interesting characters, a great setting, sometimes touches of humor, a satisfying ending, and a story that won’t let go.
The PS3 series with Drake (Uncharted, Drake’s Fortune, and Drake’s Deception), for example, is definitely the best I’ve ever played. Talk about having it all. Besides the great stories with lots of secrets to uncover and exotic locales to explore, the characters are absolutely captivating. A young attractive hero with a touch of the bad boy and his older, only somewhat wiser partner Sully—one of my favorites. And the female characters, Chloe and Elena are fully drawn and almost Drake’s equal in derring-do.
While I wait for Resident Evil 6 to arrive, I am playing Aliens VS Predator. It remains to be seen whether this will contain enough puzzles to keep me happy, but I already know I will save the world, one alien at a time.
Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. A career librarian, this will be her first novel. She lives in New York.