Last week I had the honor of speaking at the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) about writing, editing, video games and cosplay. For those who might be unfamiliar, WorldCon is a literary convention that also hosts the Hugo Awards. One of the unique things about WorldCon is that the location changes annually. Last year it was in Chicago, this year San Antonio, and next year it will be in London.
Even though to us MMOs are an incredibly popular type of video game, a lot of my co-panelists and audience members were unfamiliar with the term MMORPG. Quite a few book industry big wigs asked me to describe recent MMO-themed novels published within the last decade. So, I set aside virtual reality-themed and older MMO-themed books like Enders Game, Snow Crash, and the Otherland series for a moment, to share the nine most recent novels that I’m familiar with. The following list describes all nine novels from 2004 to present that are explicitly about MMOs or incorporate MMOs heavily into the plot.
1) EPIC, by Conor Kostick (2004)
The entire population of New Earth plays the advanced virtual reality game called Epic as its rewards directly affect their income, social standing, and careers. It is nearly impossible for poor people to actually advance in the game, unless given money by those who inherited wealth and powerful equipment. Poor citizens of New Earth play their entire life, slowly building up their characters to try to become powerful enough to go to a university to study Epic.
If a community wishes to redress a perceived injustice, they may challenge Central Allocations or C. A., which is a powerful, select group of nine individuals that controls all of the world's resources and funds the most powerful characters in the game world. Challenges are held in a special arena where the various players can attack each other. All of the members of C. A. are extremely rich, which results in them having nearly unbeatable characters in the game, especially to the great number of weak players in the game.
The story opens with Erik determined to obtain revenge for the unjust treatment of his parents. If you win in Epic you have the chance to fulfill your dreams; if you lose, your life both in and out of the game is worth nothing. When Erik dares to subvert the rules of Epic, he and his friends must face the Committee. If Erik and his friends win, they may have the key to destroying the Committee’s tyranny.
2) DAEMON, by Daniel Suarez (2006)
Matthew Sobol was a legendary computer game designer—the architect behind half-a-dozen popular online games. His premature death depressed both gamers and his company's stock price. But Sobol's fans aren't the only ones to note his passing. When his obituary is posted online, a previously dormant daemon activates, initiating a chain of events intended to unravel the fabric of our hyper-efficient, interconnected world.
With Sobol's secrets buried along with him, and as new layers of his daemon are unleashed at every turn, it's up to Detective Sebeck and computer genius Jon Ross to try and stop the daemon somehow from destroying everything. The MMO created by Sobol, is where the daemon secretly begins recruiting the disaffected but brilliant youth who play the game as part of its efforts to bring down technology and society.
3) HALTING STATE, by Charles Stross (2007)
A cybercrime has been committed in the MMORPG, Avalon Four. A robbery of several thousand euros worth of prestige items occurs in the game's central bank, led by a band of orcs and a dragon for fire support. It is later noticed that this seemingly simple incident has deep implications—both financial (Hayek stock price) and logistical (compromised cryptographic keys).
The main story is then divided between the police chapters as Sue, the investigation sections as Elaine, and the programmer sections as Jack. Initially separate storylines, the three inevitably join forces to combat a much larger conspiracy that hinges on international espionage and counterterrorism.
As investigators try to track the theft, it is revealed that Chinese hackers have infiltrated the backbone of the European internet, opening a gaping security hole that could bring down governments as well as gamer goblins.
4) OMNITOPIA DAWN, by Diane Duane (2010)
Worldwide, Omnitopia is now as much a culture as a game. Participants can become involved in it in a hundred different ways. Some game as if their lives depend on it, spending thousands of hours, or thousands of dollars, or both, on quests in search of game glory among their fellow players, and some game only to acquire sufficient in-game value to become entitled to become subcreators themselves, able to build new levels and start raking in the “one percent of infinity” which is the leveler's share of the profits.
With the expansion rollout just days away, Omnitopia’s creator is worried about possible vulnerabilities in the system. His concerns are not unfounded: a skilled group of hackers is plotting an attack at the time the game’s servers will be most vulnerable.
5) FOR THE WIN, by Cory Doctorow (2010)
The book is set in the near future in which gold farmers slave away in virtual worlds that boast economics rivaling real world ones. All over the world, MMORPGs are big business. Hidden away in China and elsewhere, young players are pressed into working as gold-farmers, amassing game-wealth that’s sold to Western players at a profitable markup. Some of these pieceworkers rebel, trying to go into business for themselves, but there’s little to stop their bosses from dragging them back into servitude.
The workers in these game worlds are either brutalized or are indentured servants or are both in the real world. The story of the characters intertwine and link though gaming, technology, politics, and economic issues. One of the players, Wei-Dong, is obsessed with Asian youth culture and MMORPGs, and knows the system is rigged, and that kids everywhere are being exploited. Finally, he and his Asian counterparts begin to work together to claim their rights. Under the noses of the ruling elites, they fight the bosses, the game owners and the rich speculators, outsmarting them with their street-gaming skills. But soon the battle will spill over from the virtual world to the real one, leaving the young rebels fighting not just for their rights, but for their lives.
6) THE RESTORATION GAME, by Ken MacLeod (2010)
Lucy Stone is a computer programmer who grew up in the fictional Caucasian Soviet republic of Krassnia and works for a videogame company in Edinburgh. After Stone's mother, who once worked for the CIA, commissions her company to create a massively multi-player online role playing game based on Krassnian mythology, Stone becomes entangled in the region's politics and her own family history.
In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace to slot into the game, she finds the open secrets of her family's past, the darker secrets of Krassnia's past, and the hints about the crucial role she is destined to play in The Restoration Game.
7) REAMDE, by Neal Stephenson (2011)
Richard "Dodge" Forthrast founded a company that designed and operates a massively multi-player online game called T'Rain. T'Rain is a fantasy-themed virtual world with an extensive mythological backstory, incorporating an economic system intentionally geared towards meeting the needs of conventional players as well as gold farmers, who specialize in converting in-game currency to actual hard currency.
The virus, "Reamde," affects T'Rain players by encrypting any seemingly valuable files and extorting in-game gold in exchange for a key to decrypt those files. As a consequence of the in-game payment method, chaos has already been building in the virtual world around the region holding the ransom drop points.
The story separates into four main threads at this juncture: Zula and Jones as they flee from the scene; MI6 agent Olivia and Sokolov as both attempt to extract themselves from their illegal presence in China; Csongor, a Hungarian hacker, Marlon, the lead author of the Reamde virus scam, and Yuxia, a local Hakka woman; and Richard as he continues to deal with the fallout of Reamde.
8) READY PLAYER ONE, by Ernest Cline, (2011)
The year is 2044 and the world is in near-ruins. The Great Recession has taken its toll on the world's economy, and resources are scarce. The internet and gaming culture have evolved into a creation known as OASIS, a massively multiplayer online simulation game created by James Halliday and Ogden Morrow of Gregarious Simulation Systems (GSS).
OASIS is not just a game, but a way a life for most. Depending on what people can afford, the experience can be fully sensory so that players feel as if they are actually existing in the world of OASIS and experiencing it in just about every way possible.
Halliday, with no heirs or other living family, dies suddenly and leaves a video will to those in OASIS and a book that was dubbed Anorak's Almanac, a journal written by Halliday himself containing all his thoughts. The video says that whoever can collect three keys that are hidden throughout the universe of OASIS and pass through the matching gates will receive his fortune and controlling stake in GSS. This becomes known as the Hunt and people immediately begin the search for Halliday's Easter Egg.
As the book opens, many years have passed since Halliday's death, but none of the keys have been found. Wade Owen Watts, a poor orphan from the "stacks" surrounding metropolitan Oklahoma, dedicates his life to finding James Halliday's Easter egg.
9) THE HOLDER’S DOMINION, by Genese Davis (2013)
At first, Kaylie Ames didn’t recognize her old friend, Elliott. He was on his knees in the middle of a grocery store aisle. His eyes were shut and he looked ill, mumbling something unintelligible. Although Elliott wouldn’t explain what had happened to him in the grocery store, he eventually let Kaylie into his circle of friends and into the online world of Edannair.
Kaylie had never really been a gamer before, or even competitive for that matter, but as she became immersed within the online game, things began to change. In Edannair, you can compete and show off your talent by joining teams. The highest-ranking team is Sarkmarr, which is ruled by the Holder, an enigmatic leader whose true identity is hidden for many reasons. Sarkmarr has proven their skill as reigning world champions over the annual competition known as The Stakes where they’ve earned coveted PVP and PVE world titles.
Sarkmarr’s highly selective process requires applicants to demonstrate their talent through a number of online trials and offline, real-world challenges called morphis assignments. It was a morphis assignment that had brought Elliott to his knees in the grocery store the day Kaylie found him.
As Kaylie learns more about the Holder and his manipulative morphis assignments, she becomes convinced that she must infiltrate Sarkmarr. At each turn, the world of Edannair reveals a new game that Kaylie is determined to play.
It’s always interesting to show how powerful MMORPGs can be both online and within literature. Books can create parallel worlds for video games, and video games create storylines that inspire novelists. Books and video games are little gifts of bliss in their own right, so it’s easy to be excited when they combine in to gamer-lit novels!
Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.
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