Quests – Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives

by J. Howard

A bridge-building book that connects the literary genre of the romantic quest narrative (exemplified by the Arthurian legends), and the wide category of “quest games” that includes, but isn’t limited to, RPGs and action-adventure games. The parallels are undeniable and familiar to any person who enjoys playing such games, but it’s a real pleasure to see someone publish a book filled with good arguments and examples to use in debates with game critics who dismiss games as an art form and just a “waste of time”.

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Twilight vs. True Blood

I had quite a lot of time on my hands during the New Year’s holidays and a large part of it was most enjoyably spent watching the three full seasons of the True Blood TV show. For those of you so unimaginably uninformed as to not recognize the title, it’s a vampire story in a contemporary urban setting, dealing with the attempts of the vampire minority to blend into mainstream (human) society. I was so enraptured with the show that I went on and read the first three novels of the Southern Vampire Mysteries series by C. Harris, which the show is based upon. By convenient coincidence, there were so many vampire-related movies on TV during the holidays that I felt I needed to complete the circle by finally watching the Twilight movies, which I shun for a long time for suspicion of being a sentimental teenager romance. The exercise has left my indulgent, eager mind completely immersed in modern vampire lore and melodramatic romances.

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Mask of the Betrayer

Had it been a book, I’d have read it in one sitting. Had it been a movie, I’d have watched it without blinking. As a role-playing game, the story was infused with a sense of immediacy unique to the medium, gaining much and losing nothing. There are very, very few games in my not so modest gaming experience for which I could say the same. Even in the face of considerable expectations I had, based on the surprisingly positive reactions of the RPG community, Mask of the Betrayer stood its ground as a rare and superb experience.

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Pride and Prejudice

Strange as it may sound, of all Austen’s novels, Pride & Prejudice, although probably the most famous, is the only one I had known next to nothing about prior to reading it this January. I had no idea whatsoever about what the plot was, which made for some delicious surprises, and I felt no certainty that it would end well, unlike with the others, where there was a constant awareness that a happy ending is practically guaranteed. Needless to say, I did like the book immensely; much more than Sense and Sensibility, though probably not as much as Emma, and I wasn’t really hit immediately after finishing. It took me a few days of going over it in my mind almost in spite of myself to realize the extent of the impressions.

And then I gave in and started looking for more. First I watched the movie from 2005, starring  Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, and was positively enraptured. Some two weeks later, I had a flashback and looked for the other recent adaptation, the BBC’s mini-series from 1995, with  Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I have little to say about the book – not because it was uninspiring or anything like that, of course; merely because I can’t presume to add any substance to the immense body of critique, commentary and analysis that must accompany such a classic; however I am in the mood for talking about the two movie adaptations and how they compare.

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