8 Games Based On Books That Will Help Grow Your Gorgeous Brain

·7-min read
A red-haired character in The Witcher stands with her hands on her hips and a copy of My Year of Rest and Relaxation tucked under her arm.
A red-haired character in The Witcher stands with her hands on her hips and a copy of My Year of Rest and Relaxation tucked under her arm.

Literature trends that turn authors into influencers and mail out literary bucket hats have determined that it is officially Hot Book Summer. Like Hot Girl Summer, Hot Book Summer, if done correctly, is all beauty with just a tasteful dash of brains. But what about us, we who carry the extra burden of a controller? How can we find our Hot Game Summer? Here I present to you a selection of novel-based gaming that will see your social standing raised to the highest brow.

Searching through the moody Irish twiglets in the love stories written by yassified James Joyce, Sally Rooney, Ottessa Moshfegh’s stylishly pouting eccentrics, and the inexplicable sluttiness of carrying a New Yorker tote bag, you’ll find that reading is no longer an activity people do only because they want to. Instead, reading is something you perform to let other people know that you’re artistic and most likely sensitive. There’s that irreplaceable feeling of sitting at a café on a warm afternoon, ordering a frothy drink in a small cup, and setting your book out in front of you. Peace, at last. Now everyone knows you own at least one book.

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Because of Reese Witherspoon’s Hulu adaptations and those New Yorker tote bags, reading will never again be a purely intellectual pursuit for wiry haired Renaissance men. It’s a form of subtle—yet potent—social signaling. But how are you supposed to tell an entire train car you like poignantly sipping espresso if you prefer video games to books as your main art form? I thought you would never ask.

You scroll through this list, which contains details of eight games that may not help expand your vocabulary, but will certainly make you walk with the confidence that only being book-adjacent can provide. With these games, the general public will never doubt your ability to shed one meaningful tear, and you’ll be ready to plunge headlong into Hot Book Summer.

Nancy Drew

The loading screen for Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower shows players their options as a pile of red books: new game, load and save, and exit.
The loading screen for Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower shows players their options as a pile of red books: new game, load and save, and exit.

We begin with the most densely cerebral book series: Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene, a nearly 100-year old franchise about a girl detective, written for children who don’t mind the idea of a tartan-print skirt.

Nancy Drew has sleuthed her way through mystery books the traditional way. In her long life, though, she has also made it to the silver screen, as well as the computer screen in a series of point-and-click adventure games developer HeR Interactive has been releasing since 1999. As of 2019, the game series is 33 games deep, but audiences have always bemoaned the games’ tendency toward plot holes and spotty graphics.

Since Hot Book Summer is all about aesthetics, you’re better off trying out this Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower fan remake from graphic designer Julia Holdnack. The remake, which is available to download for free on itch.io, is brighter, 3D, and interactive, giving Nancy, and you, some deserved glamor.

Northanger Abbey: The Game

Three characters in the Northanger Abbey dating sim stand in a parlor room as options to either laugh or smile are displayed on the screen.
Three characters in the Northanger Abbey dating sim stand in a parlor room as options to either laugh or smile are displayed on the screen.

We have gained and lost video game tributes to 18th century rom-com generator Jane Austen. These include 2013’s endless runner Stride & Prejudice, which had you run and jump on text from Pride and Prejudice, and massively multiplayer online role-playing game Ever, Jane. Both were quietly shut down, the latter because of dwindling funds in 2020, but some smaller indie games still stand strong and corseted.

Look at the stalwart Northanger Abbey: The Game, another game you can download for free on itch.io, which turns Austen’s Gothic novel spoof into a refined, queer dating sim. Playing this game will alert everyone to the fact that you dabble in the occasional teen movie, but, like, in a smart way.

The Great Gatsby

A pixel Nick Carraway stands under three floating coins in The Great Gatsby video game.
A pixel Nick Carraway stands under three floating coins in The Great Gatsby video game.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the free browser game The Great Gatsby, will both force you to think about massive wealth, massive power, and how small you might feel in the middle of it.

If you’d rather not consider the futile slog to upward social mobility in America, in either 1925 or 2022, you can instead focus on jumping through the luxurious environments of this game, which manage to express the grandeur of Fitzgerald’s West Egg in just a couple of pixels, as if Mario and Luigi were from Long Island. Remember, Hot Book Summer is not about making important realizations through learned information, but embracing the arrogance of your inner Nick Carraway.

Metro 2033

Soldiers wearing masks and black full-body tactical gear run across a snowy, barren sidewalk.
Soldiers wearing masks and black full-body tactical gear run across a snowy, barren sidewalk.

OK, we’re currently in the Graham Greene, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon part of the slideshow. I’m sorry if that’s jarring to you, but knowingly and publicly pulling Slaughterhouse-Five out of your backpack has a similar energy to those stiff straw boater hats Nick Carraway wears in some movie adaptations. I thought now would be a good time to go there.

Metro 2033, the first-person shooter, is based on Metro 2033, the post-apocalyptic book by Dmitry Glukhovsky. Playing this game, which mostly involves gunning down slimy gray mutants in hellish, razed Russia, will help you finally tell everyone that 1984 was on your syllabus at least once, and you are not afraid to misuse the term “Orwellian.”

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six

An American soldier in Rainbow Six Siege sets off a detonator and points his gun.
An American soldier in Rainbow Six Siege sets off a detonator and points his gun.

OK, now we’re in the John Grisham part of today’s presentation. Parading around a Tom Clancy novel or proclaiming your love of one of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy-branded military games, is on the opposite end of buying yourself a Normal People t-shirt. But the Clancy name’s violent popularity earns it a spot in Hot Book Summer. Playing one of the games in the Rainbow Six first-person shooter series, which are inspired by Clancy’s 1998 techno-thriller of the same name, will make you literally sweat bullets. Literally. Because of how awesome and anti-terrorism you are.

Spec Ops: The Line

A soldier in Spec Ops: The Line stands and admires an empty Dubai at sunset.
A soldier in Spec Ops: The Line stands and admires an empty Dubai at sunset.

Third-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line is flavored by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a novella about evil, imperialism, and invariably, racism. The game, like the book, depending on your interpretation of it, tells a story that’s condemnatory of war and warmongers’ (and the U.S. military’s) sick enjoyment of it. But you shouldn’t worry too much about critical thinking this Hot Book Summer—any revelations you have will quickly be replaced by your frustration at this game’s many unfortunate clunks and glitches.

The Witcher

The Witcher protagonist battles a mutant on a stone staircase.
The Witcher protagonist battles a mutant on a stone staircase.

While we’re considering epic concepts like evil, violence, and low frame rate, we might as well talk about fantasy. The Witcher, an action role-playing game based on the Polish books by Andrzej Sapkowski, has led to a franchise of dating sim games, which also motivated the Netflix show.

The Witcher considers humanity’s monstrosity like Spec Ops, but this time, there are many leather boots and exposed bosoms. It’s an imagined medieval society, and that’s the kind of thing they were into then.

These games are for the Hot Book Summer participants who don’t mind a Renaissance fair, or the fact that all of their Pinterest boards are named “dark academia.”

The Binding of Isaac

Creatures with bloody eyes stomp around a rock-strewn room in The Binding of Isaac.
Creatures with bloody eyes stomp around a rock-strewn room in The Binding of Isaac.

The bloodstained roguelike Binding of Isaac is influenced by the Hebrew Bible story of Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah nearly slaughtered by his God-fearing father. That’s the Bible for you. The Bible: ever heard of it?

Playing this game, which is almost as gruesome and twisted as the real story, is probably the ultimate book-inspired game to play during Hot Book Summer. For many people, the Bible is a purely visual thing to slap on the table or invoke when they want to say something that would never have appeared in the Bible. That’s what reading is all about. In the words of Job 32:9, “great men are not always wise.” And, of course, as we learn in Ashley 1:1, “I am a genius.”


You did it, you made it to the end of my list. Do you feel smarter? I hope not. Tell me your favorite games inspired by books in the comments anyway.

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