As readers, we don't think about it often, but books are an old invention—thousands of years old, in fact. As inventions go, that's a pretty long-lasting one. But that doesn't mean that it can’t be made better. At least that's the thinking behind some new books offering readers more than they might expect. And why not? In this day of information being readily available at our fingertips, there are more things vying for our entertainment time: binge-watching our favorite television shows, online games and movie-watching, cute-cat-video viewing marathons on YouTube (come on, we all do it)...it's no wonder publishers are trying new things to draw people to the printed page. And they're doing it by appealing to the child inside you. You remember how to play games and solve puzzles, don't you?
Becoming the Hero
When I was younger, there was a series of choose-your-own-adventure fantasy books in which the reader assumed the role of the story's hero and the plot was directed by choices you would make: "If you fight the troll, turn to page 22." "If you invite the dragon to tea, turn to page 86." These books were fun when I was 12, but they weren't very involved and they were only fleetingly satisfying.
Oh my, how things have changed!
There's a new series of books called DestinyQuest that are generations ahead of the choose-your-own-adventure books of yesteryear. Sure, readers get to make choices on what the characters do, but the DestinyQuest books offer much, much more. They're actually closer to roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons in some respects.
Each book comes with a brief rule set and a so-called character sheet that tracks the attributes of your character. You start the game as a simple traveler, but you pursue a career path as the game progresses. Are you a warrior? A rogue? A mage? The career path you choose will determine how your character evolves and what abilities he or she acquires. Those abilities will be put to the test when you encounter fierce monsters (some more fierce than others) which you may choose to engage in battle. You could run away in some cases, of course, but then you wouldn't get any treasure and other fine booty!
The DestinyQuest series is the brainchild of Michael J. Ward and was borne out of his love for roleplaying games. There are three books in the DestinyQuest series, each one clocking in at 650-700 pages and offering a new adventure in the imaginative world of Valeron, and each one is "playable" multiple times such that every adventure is different:
- In DestinyQuest 1: The Legion of Shadow you play a renegade with no memory of your past. Your path to redemption is to save the world from the evil threat of the sinister Legion of Shadow.
- DestinyQuest 2: The Heart of Fire puts you in the role of prophet who, at the beginning of the adventure, is a victim of the Inquisition, doomed to spend your days trapped in a dungeon being tormented by visions of a nightmarish future. A lucky break sets you free to assume a new identity, but there's no escaping your own prophecy.
- In DestinyQuest 3: The Eye of Winter's Fury, you play the role of Prince Arran, son of Leonidas and second heir to the throne of Valeron. To prove your worthiness to the throne, you must pick up your sword and battle the forces of evil that threaten the kingdom.
The DestinyQuest website makes a fantastic companion to the books. They offer history, rules, downloadable goodies and forums where you can get help and share your adventures with others.
Bridging the Gap
Turning a book into a game is one way to get readers more interested in books. Another is to bridge the gap between the printed page and the Internet. Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton aims to do just that.
Endgame: The Calling is the first book in a new young adult dystopian series. The world of Endgame is based on the idea of 12 ancient cultures that were chosen millennia ago as representatives of humanity in a global game of survival. There can be only one winner, and that winner will decide the fate of humankind.
So far, sounds pretty much on par with The Hunger Games. But what Endgame: The Calling offers beyond that is more than just reading a story; it offers a multimedia experience in which readers can immerse themselves. Readers are thus pulled outside the book—and this is important—while still remaining in the story to access additional content made available to readers.
The book distinguishes itself from other young adult dystopias (of which there are many) by offering additional worldbuilding in separate novellas, in-world YouTube videos, and a smartphone game that builds out the world depicted in the book itself. For the game, the publishers partnered with Google to produce an interactive geo-location game that uses your phone's GPS to play it. All of this is set up to allow the readers (who are now players) to solve puzzles and win prizes. Oh, did I mention the there's a prize of a $1 million in gold?
The idea here is that by engaging the reader on multiple fronts, the entertainment value is made greater and it will attract more readers. In the case of Endgame, the possibility of winning $1 million in gold may also be a contributing factor. Time will tell if this strategy works. In the meantime, readers get to have even more reasons top pick up a book.