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Reinvention of literature: Readers can ‘play’ through books

July 12, 2011 - 18:25 By
There‘s something seemingly scandalous, irreverent about Simon Meek’s notion of “playing through” novels like “Crime and Punishment” or “Wuthering Heights.”

But in practice, Meek‘s work transforming the world’s great literature into something experienced on a gaming console is more akin to performance art or theater than it is video games.

Meek seems to want to do for the video game generation what public broadcast television did for the television generation, adapting great works of literature into something that could expand the reach of a book.

What Meek and Scottish-based TernTV are creating to be experienced on computers, iPads and game consoles isn‘t video games, not really. The group is creating digital adaptations, works that put readers inside the scenes of a classic and asks them to experience the story from the inside out.

Meek, TernTV’s head of digital and multi-platform content and executive producer on the project, says he‘s always had a “bit of a bee in my bonnet” about the evolution of the story from book to screen. But what bothers him aren’t the television and movie adaptations of books. What bothers him are electronic books.

Meek says he doesn‘t like that electronic books still have people reading printed words on white pages that need to be turned. “Which doesn’t make any sense in a digital world,” he tells me. These electronic books are still too rooted in the form that gave them birth, the physical side of the media, he believes.

More bothersome to Meek is that electronic books aren‘t reaching out to new readers, rather they tap into a sub-set of the already reading audience.

That being said, Meek doesn’t want to create something that competes with ebooks, his goal is far loftier: He wants to transform books into adaptations that change the way a reader experiences them and in so doing hopefully expand a book‘s reach.

While Meek wasn’t able to discuss the details of their first work, a digital adaptation of 1915 spy novel “The Thirty Nine Steps” due out next spring, he was able to walk me through how an adaptation would work in general.

“Players enter the stories through the events that take place in that story, and at that point experience the story from the inside out,” he explains. “We place them in the world in which the story is set, and are using a combination of original art and games engine to create some truly stunning environments. Add to that audio design and original composition, and the world of the book is brought to life. On this stage, we then let the player progress through an array of media that is directly taken/reinterpreted from the book.”

TernTV is working with theater companies to capture audio performances for this first digital adaptation and are using reproductions of objects that are placed in these settings to allow the player to be able to explore the story and the world in which it is set.

Sections of the book‘s original text will also be occasionally displayed on the screen “when words are best placed to tell the story,” he said.

A key element to this form of adaptation is that unlike with most video game adaptations, you don’t actually play as a character from the book. Instead you are an observer to what occurs inside the book’s world. So unlike with most video games, this will be an interactive experience overtly robbed of its influence on what happens. Players are there to actively absorb the experience of the novel, but not change its outcome.

By Brian Crecente 


(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)