Game analysis in(/with?) fiction?

It would be easy to pick a story that had a game in it, but what I'm interested are stories where game analysis is actually a part of the plot.

To explain what I mean, let me tell you about [Constellation Games](

It's a great for a freshmen novel and even though I have some complaints with it (most of which I would chalk up to my personal taste) what I want to focus on is the way games are treated in this story. Allow me to summarize:

Its a first contact story. An alien collective of races appears in space and one guy thinks "hey they have computers they must have video games" so he requests they send him some.

They will only provide him tech below a certain level of complexity so all the games and hardware are from thousands of years in the past of the collective, and from some races from before joining the collective. He begins to review them to have unique content for his blog.

Through reviewing the games he learns about the culture, psychology, and sense experience of the races. But is shocked when he finds a game from the first contact period of one of the component races and discovers a less then rosy and peaceful depiction of the collective. But since hes the only one who's been doing this obscure research hes the only one who knows.

The book features many "reviews" for specific alien games that do not exist. The idea of "reviewing" a fictional game as a story conceit to tell us more about the makers of that game really piques my interest.

I'm a big fan of meta-literature type stuff in the first place so here are the three questions I pose. They get progressively easier.

  • 1. Can you name a game where you gain knowledge through analysis of a game, as part of the written narrative?
  • 2. Can you name any media, period, where deconstruction of game design was used to determine the something about somebody?
  • 3. Can you name a story that could have been improved if one of the characters was a expert at dissecting games at that level?
  • The first thing I'd note with all of these is that often the PLAYER or viewer is invited to make these kinds of analysis through open questions in the text, but the characters in the media dont often make these leaps themselves.

    Here are a few examples I'd give as answers to my own question:

    Beginner's Guide. I recently wrote a thing in another thread about how I feel about this (i love it), but this definitely fits the bill, even if the "reviewer" is off the mark on his assessments, his interpretation of coda's games drives the plot.

    The 999/Nonrary game series: Technicality.

    Honestly those are the only ones I could think of for this category so I'm curious if anyone else has anything.

  • 2.

    Little more room here. Still tough.

    I feel like this is bending the rules but at the same time I dont.

  • I'm going to get into this in the third category, but sometimes you could see serial killer hunters in fiction as "solving a game", and in doing so learning more about the intent of their opponent, like "seven" or something.

    Arguably ARGUABLY Ender's game goes here

    Finally #3, which I think is actually a rich potential field of discussion, what fiction with "games" in them might have been improved by the presence of a person who is an expert at games. I'm not talking about "Ready Player One" here. I've made a small list of fiction with games in them for you to consider:

    What would a game designer have made of The Cube? Would he have ben the first to die? If he was in the movie would he have been able to divine anything about the goals of its administrator?

    Player Of Games by Ian M. Banks: I mention this because it has a game as its core conceit, but the game is only ever described in vague terms (thats fine, I get it, but still)

    The Game (1997): Hard to see what an subject matter expert could do here to fight back since the game was deigned to fit the participant but still interesting to consider.

    Battle Royale: Imagine if one of the high-schoolers had a PHD in game theory

    Most Dangerous Game: Surely even with a game as simple as "lure people to my island and hunt them for sport" we can learn something from the antagonist by the rules they set

    and finally Death Race 2000. And I mention this one last because now we're starting to blend the topic of "game" and "sport", not that I find the analysis of fictional sports any less interesting. If you look at the scoring system it implies certain things about the social goals of the race and the people it kills. But the people in the fiction dont point this out because its probably pretty obvious shit to those living in universe.

    Anyway, thats my thought vomit.

    In short: I'm very curious about times in fiction where things learned from game analysis was used as a plot point.

    But I want to be very clear to separate that from stuff like the 1000 animes that take place inside a game of some sort but dont get at the concept in this kind of way.

    I guess the big one I‘d mention is Hunter X Hunter with its Greed Island arc. Players are basically themselves but inside a game console. They have to collect cards of various rarities to win, and they can do so by finding them, defeating/winning/searching for things that turn into cards, or trading for them (or stealing them). And there’s a whole host of understandable rules that our heroes have to figure out and interpret in order to try to win the game, and ultimately it's their analysis of how the game works (while forming allegiances) that gets them through.

    I do think this happens more in Anime and Manga than it does in western media. Even in things like Ender's Game it's less about analyzing the rules and critiquing than figuring out what the game is actually *about* (which is kind of critiquing I guess). Ultimately very similar in that way to James Cameron's Avatar.

    Another western one that kiiiiiiiiind of does it is my oft-mentioned Nirvana, starring Christopher Lambert. In this movie, Lambert has developed a VR game, but one of his characters becomes self-aware, and his memory and consciousness persists through multiple deaths and plays, and he eventually figures out what's going on, where he is, and that the only way to be free is for the game itself to die. It kind of fits!?

    @jUAN just posted something that fits as well, over in the “pre-G4” thread:

    Excellent analysis of the use of "Go" to provide a metaphor for how two sides of a time war view their strategy differently, while ostensibly playing the same game. From "This Is How You Lose The Time War", the most recent Nebula Award winner for Best Novella.

    But when will we have a work of fiction where a character talks about the comparative merits of different Treasure, Ltd. games the way Patrick Bateman talks about Phil Collins?

    @Syzygy#5344 I'm particularly interested in in-universe “what can analysis of this (fictional) game tell us about the (fictional) people who made/play it” type stuff, but yeah.

    Speaking of "death games" big Death Parade fan, but the folks in that are already dead.

    Westworld (the TV series) is kinda centered around an analysis of game design; the analysis just happens to be kinda sophomoric and facile. The genesis of the show was literally Jonathan Nolan watching videos of people killing hookers in GTA and deciding that was a profound statement about Human Nature.

    Dropping this here because its definitely the kind of thing I'm talking about.

    Yes a few come to mind that might fit. Only the last example has a game designer proper in it, but all have characters (and/or the author) considering the dimensions, rules, and effects of the games.

  • *

    Robert Coover's novel The Universal Baseball Association about a guy who becomes obsessed with a tabletop baseball game similar to the real world Strat O Matic. Emotional anguish re to save scum or not to save scum, essentially,_Inc.,_J._Henry_Waugh,_Prop.

  • *

    The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. Novel about a guy who commits to mediating all life decisions (big and small) through a system of dice rolls. Sort of a classic counterculture book that has aged a bit but is entertaining ****disclaimer: if you have or will read this, PSA I do not endorse the author's attempt to write black person dialogue, thank you****

  • *

    The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. Novel set in the future about a monastic order dedicated to playing a syncretic mystical game. Not much about the game itself, but very much in line with the 'what does this game tell us about the people/culture around it' dictum
    And I found this sick web 1.0 site from a group apparently trying to do the game for real. I don't think they finished the book but appreciate the enthusiasm!

  • *

    And of course the film Exizstenz. About a game designer running around a VR/MMO style game she created.

  • Black Mirror S04E01 (“USS Callister”) is about a genius programmer who works at a videogame company on AI. He makes a virtual Stark Trek simulation, uploads his co-workers‘ conciousnesses into it, and makes himself the captain. (spoilers->) One day a woman who is a huge fan of his work starts working at the office. He immediately puts her in the simulation, and she learns they are all trapped there esentially forever in a living nightmare situation where they have to enthusiastically roleplay cheesy Star Trek crewmembers, and obey the player/developer’s every wish, under threat of unspeakable torture (such as having your face removed and choking indefinitely (he‘s programmed everyone to be invincible). But! the new lady is like "He’s smart, but he‘s not a god, he’s a coder…". So she distracts him with the possibility of sex and pizza while her real life self steals the DNA he was using to clone them. Finally, they upload themselves to the cloud through an update patch (???), leaving the coder stuck alone in his version of the game, and unable to log off for some reason.

    So, the typical thing of using the language of games to mean whatever they want, and echoing that very surface-level critique seen in something like Westworld. Like most of Black Mirror's later episodes, it kinda hints at something interesting, but doesn't actually deliver it.

    @exodus#4308 I loved how everything game related was presented in HxH. Not only the Greed Island arc itself, all the shenanigans involving the mysterious memory card, acquiring a copy of the super rare game in the black market and all that was very enjoyable to watch as a videogame fan with knowledge of both how the second hand market works and the urban legends surrounding certain games.

    Regarding the topic itself. I'd mention Level Five, a fake documentary by Chris Marker about a fictional videogame that recreates the Okinawa battle in WWII. It's very freeform and experimental, and its interpretation of what a videogame is and how it works is very liberal, but it's a fun watch nonetheless.

    Another interesting movie involving videogames is Elle, one of the more recent Paul Verhoeven movies. It is about a rich woman that works as a producer/executive in a videogame company. The pressence of videogames is tangential to the main plot (trigger warning: the movie is about she chasing a dude who assaulted and raped her) but it is unique in the sense that offers a depiction of game development in a AAA environment rather than incorporating game logic into the fiction. The premise of the movie touches a delicate subject and that makes it hard to recommend, but all I can say is that I watched it with my girlfriend and we walked out finding it more thought provoking than morbid or in poor taste.

    Today I found out about “Invisible Games”, a short-lived blog that ran in 2007 about fictional games. The posts have been collected here

    The most famous story from the collection is "Killswitch", which apparently went on to become a bit of an online rumor.

    It's an enjoyable little collection of short stories. I hate comparing everything to SCP but it does have that vibe, except about anomalous games instead of objects. A few of the stories take place in the mid 1900's or earlier so they aren't all strictly focused on "video games" as we might commonly think of them.