Games By The Book

September 7th - October 8th, 2012

Curated by Clara Fernández-Vara and Nick Montfort
Humanities Library
Hayden Library Building

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A project of The Trope Tank

Organized by Sponsored by

MIT Game Lab

Electronic Literature Organization

Comparative Media Studies at MIT

De Florez Fund for Humor

Council of the Arts at MIT

About the Exhibit

People can’t get enough of stories—we’re always seeking to re-experience them, in different forms and versions. Myths have been transformed and rehashed between religion, folklore, and popular narrative. It’s typical to see the play, read the book, watch the film, and now, play the game. Each medium will appropriate a story based on what each medium can do best. This exhibit focuses on literary adaptations to the new medium of the videogame, ones that come from classical theatre texts (by Sophocles and William Shakespeare) as well as novels (by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Douglas Adams).

The games showcased in this exhibit demonstrate the variety of approaches one can follow in adapting literary works into games.

The participatory nature of the medium cues a transformation of the original story, exploring its different alternatives. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an example of how the player becomes the protagonist, engages in the story, maybe changing the events, maybe experiencing a different version of the story. A different approach to videogame adaptation is focusing on world building, rather than the events. Avon invites the player to explore a land inhabited by Shakespeare’s characters, who create the challenges that the player must face. The Great Gatsby intersects the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story with the conventions of platformer games, marking the transition between levels with short cutscenes based on the novel. A third option is adapting the themes and mechanics, so that what the actions of the player rehearse and explore the themes, setting aside the characters and events. Yet One Wordinspired its mechanics on the themes of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.

The games in the show are playful because they are games, and because they all play with the texts they adapt in different ways, exploring and transforming the texts in different ways. In all cases, the results always show new aspects of the work that the authors may have never thought of. We would like to invite players to read the works that inspired these games, which are also on display.



Jon Thackray and Jonathan Partington
Cambridge University, 1982.

Inspired by the works of William Shakespeare, Avon is not a specific adaptation of any plays, but a celebration of the characters and places in his plays. This early piece of interactive fiction has the player face the Weird sisters from Macbeth, meet poor Yorick in life, and choose Portia’s right casket. Knowing Shakespeare’s works is not necessary to solve the puzzles, but familiarity with them allows playing a meta-game by trying to identify the different characters and where they may come from. An early piece of interactive fiction, Avon is marked by contrived puzzles, riddles and anagrams that have nothing to do with the plays. The charm of this game relies on how creates the world of The Bard as a collage of literary references.

Play the game online.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky
Inform, 1984.

The original story was a radio series broadcast in the UK by BBC Radio 4 in 1978; the novelization was published a year later, and spawned a series of books based on the same world. Each version of the story was a different take on the events, so that being familiar with the novel may help with some of the most contrived puzzles, but it can also mislead the player. This is the only game in the exhibit where the author of the original work participated in the development. It helps that he was the only author who happened to be alive when the game was in development.

Play the game online.

Yet One Word

Yet One Word
Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab
Web, 2010.

Yet One Word is a thematic adaptation of the second play in Sophocles' Theban trilogy, Oedipus at Colonus. This experimental game, developed here at MIT, focuses on the conclusion of the play, when the maligned, and pitiful king Oedipus is transfigured, and redeemed by way of a mysterious, and marvelous death. The mechanics of the game rehearse the themes in that final segment, focusing on the necessary self-reflection Oedipus endured en route to his redemption. The idea driving idea is that through contemplation of one's own acts, one may find peace. Yet One Word invites personal reflection, asking the player to look inward, instead of revelling on the pleasures of play.

Play the game online.


The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
Charlie Hoey and Pete Smith.
Web, 2011.

Here we have a notable piece of work that adapts a literary work and a technological platform at the same time. It was originally presented as a prototype cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) found in a yard sale. The game even has a Japanese title, Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari (Exciting Library: The Story of Gatsby), and comes with an ilustrated manual reminiscent of Japanese games in the 1980s. The direct references to the novel take place in the cutscenes, whereas the gameplay itself folds in characters and situations from the novel. Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, is looking for Gatsby in parties, the underground sewers of New York, and has to fight the omnipresent eyes of T. J. Eckleburg, which seem to watch over the action of the novel.

Play the game online.


Special Thanks

Patsy Baudoin
MIT Libraries

Philip Tan
MIT Game Lab

Stuart Moulthrop
Electronic Literature Organization

Abe Stein
MIT Comparative Media Studies

Rik Eberhardt
MIT Game Lab

Steve Meretzky

Roger Philbrick

Sean Sollé

Charlie Hoey
The Great Gatsby