Seven game series ripe for YA novel tie-ins
When Ubisoft said that they were going to give Assassin’s Creed a rest this year, we should have known better than to take them at their word. The transmedia strategy for the Assassin’s Creed franchise is more far-reaching and sinister than the Templars’ plot to control the global populace with ancient artifacts of power, so it comes as little surprise that the next step for the Assassins is a series of young adult tie-in novels, the first of which is due out this fall. Assassin’s Creed: Last Descendants is set to take all the historical spleen-stabbing, tower-climbing, and haystack-diving from the hit videogame series and bring it to the written page for the tween set. Watch out, Katniss Everdeen!
Of course, there’s plenty of money to be made in young adult literature, so you can bet that this is a strategy that other major game franchises are going to emulate. By 2017, expect every major intellectual property in the AAA market to be exploiting this lucrative new audience. Here’s a glimpse into what will surely be our inevitable future.
It’s the year 2028, and teenaged Cain has just had his life absolutely ruined. After a horrible accident, he’s been fitted with biomechanical prosthetics, giving him super strength and augmented senses. How is he going to fit in at school when he can hack into every terminal and see in infrared? Unfortunately, he’s about to come up against some bigger problems -- like bioterrorists and rogue AI! What’s a transhuman teen to do?
The Deus Ex games are a perfect fit for a YA tie-in. After all, if there’s a better tagline for puberty than “I didn’t ask for this,” I can’t think of it. Every teen is afraid that the things that make them unique are the things that the world will judge them for, and it seems to them that they’re constantly being watched. In a cyberpunk dystopia, they are! Look for the Deus Ex YA tie-in to deal with issues of identity, body modification, and impossible boss fights for which you’ve chosen the wrong skill tree.
Teenaged Nathan Drake has problems. Specifically, he’s been separated from his mentor, Victor “Sully” Sullivan, he’s got a mysterious amulet that’s supposed to be a map to the mythical Ciudad de los Cesares, and at the moment, he’s being pursued through the Andes by an entire mercenary corps. Will he be able to single-handedly murder hundreds of men with his shoddy adolescent coordination? How will he deliver snappy one-liners when his voice keeps cracking? Pillaging the once-glorious ruins of an ancient civilization isn’t easy--especially when you’re not old enough to sport dashing stubble!
In the mid 90’s, we had a Young Indiana Jones -- why not a Young Nathan Drake? Nate isn’t quite Indy--his body count is higher, to be sure--but we’ve already seen him as a teen during his introduction to Sully in Drake’s Deception. Plenty of time passes between that prologue and the events of the Vita prequel, which no one played because no one owns a Vita. There must be at least half a dozen legendary lost cities Drake hasn’t explored/destroyed -- lots of material to work with! Look for the inevitable audiobook read by Nolan North.
Eve is the youngest Vault Hunter ever to come to Pandora. Meat-Face is the most excitable Psycho ever to don the face-mask and orange pants. Alone, they’re just cannon fodder on the wildest and most lawless planet in the galaxy. Together, they might stand a chance at scoring a Vault Key and striking it rich -- if the skags don’t get them first!
Borderlands has everything that teens love: Loot chests, crass humor… killer robots. A YA tie-in novel could capitalize on the more family-friendly elements of the Weird-West-in-space setting like friendship and teamwork while brushing under the rug the more unsavory aspects, like incinerating people alive, exploding psycho midgets, digging through skag vomit, the term “bonerfarts,” and Claptrap. Just imagine: page after page of detailed description of how each of the protagonists’ guns fire, the elation at seeing a new gun drop followed by the immediate disappointment upon realizing it’s not rare, and the thrill of hiking across the map to turn in a quest. This tie-in would almost certainly unseat Divergent on the bestseller lists.
For Dani, the cramped interior of Vault 30 is the whole world. That is, until the Vault’s computer systems break down and the residents are forced to evacuate into the most hostile wasteland imaginable, a post-apocalyptic horror that survivors call “The Land of Cleve.” While many of the other Vault dwellers are ready to abandon hope, Dani is determined to survive no matter what -- even if that means learning to shoot, dealing with ghouls, and gathering up every bit of trash in the wasteland.
Post-apocalyptic settings are all the rage in today’s YA lit, so Fallout seems a natural choice for adaptation. The Vault Dweller who serves as the protagonist in Fallout 3 is technically a teen, anyway -- why not re-use that premise for any one of the hundreds of Vaults which are intimated to litter the American landscape? A Fallout YA novel could deal with Real Issues that teens are faced with everyday, like chem abuse, trying pick a faction to belong to, defying oppressive authority figures, and finding enough adhesive to expand your settlement.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Squaddie Vinny Marquez hasn’t been with XCOM long enough to earn a nickname -- he’s hoping for “Magic Fingers” -- but he does know how to keep his head down, follow the Commander’s orders, and trust his senior officers. At least, until his entire team is ripped to shreds by Chryssalids and he’s the only one to make it to the Skyranger for evac. Now, at eighteen, he’s the senior member on a squad full of rookie teenagers. Can Vinny keep his fellow soldiers alive long enough to stop the alien takeover of Earth? Or will these teens be torn apart by Sectoids -- or drama?
As someone who taught middle school for eight years, I can state with confidence that the adolescent experience is pretty similar to hunkering down behind smoldering wreckage and waiting in abject terror at what alien menace might come shambling out of the fog of war. What teen hasn’t felt the knot in their stomach when an entire continent stops funding their extraterrestrial defense initiative? The XCOM tie-in novel will teach teenagers important lessons about adulthood. Specifically about loss. Lots and lots of loss.
Gears of War
The only thing Marcus Fenix loves more than his chainsaw is his best buddy Dom. For Marcus, life on Planet Sera is pretty good -- lots of friends, a cool dad, and plenty of time to goof off -- until the Locust appear! Man-sized aliens bent on rending human flesh from bone can be such a buzzkill! Now, Marcus and Dom are going to have to saw hundreds of aliens in half if they don’t want their summer totally trashed. What a bummer!
Gears of War is an excellent choice to adapt for the “12 and up” set because it is about friendship. Marcus and Dom are best friends, and that is the kind of relationship that we need to see more of in our literature for young people. Two dudes who are definitely just friends who team up to work together on something important, like fighting aliens or some such. Teens are going to love it because they crave models of healthy male relationships.
Leisure Suit Larry
Larry Laffer is the most pathetic kid in school -- and he knows it. He’s short, his nose is huge, and he even thinks he might be balding. At fourteen! When his mother goes out of town on a business trip, Larry decides that it’s time to turn things around. Armed with only his wits and a ‘70’s disco suit that he found in the basement, Larry has one weekend to crash a party, make some friends, and woo the girl of his dreams.
I foresee no potential complications with adapting Leisure Suit Larry for teenagers.
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.