From 'Gatsby' to Dante, Great Literature Gets the Video Game Treatment


They've turned The Great Gatsby into a video game again, and this time it's not that bad.

The player of the game—which you can find on the website Great Gatsby Game—controls Nick Carraway as he fights his way through flappers, gangsters and those evil giant eyes by throwing a little squashed shape at them—either his hat or a crushing metaphor for the death of the American dream. But probably his hat.

It's about as simple as you can get. To call it an "adaptation" of The Great Gatsby is using the term pretty loosely. But it's much more satisfying than a lame "hidden object" adventure version of the novel that came out last year. At least now we know why Gatsby couldn't make it to the blinking green light: Sand crabs.

The creators of Great Gatsby Game are claiming it's an unlicensed copy of an old NES game they picked up at a tag sale and put online, but that seems like a suspect story, despite some period-looking scans of a manual.

Most video games are not based on classic literature, but there are moments when the genres bleed together. There have been scores of Sherlock Holmes games. Prince Hal, Hotspur, and Falstaff made an appearance in a medieval war game , and American McGee's Alice did a much better job giving us a dark and twisted version of the Lewis Carroll classic than Tim Burton ever could. And then there's Angry Birds, which I've always suspected is a thinly veiled adaptation of War and Peace.

Last year, a big game studio with a big budget took on a big piece of literature, and the result was mixed: EA's Dante's Inferno. The story only vaguely resembled the divine comedy but it took the idea of Dante's Hell—something which may have been truly terrifying to contemporary readers—and like its predecessor God of War did for Greek Mythology made these images visceral again.

But the great success story of literature into video games has got to be The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a hulking, 800,000-word 14th-century Chinese novel that has been turned into 30-plus video games, most notably the perennial Dynasty Warriors series.

The novel tells the story of the breakup of the Han Dynasty that plunged China into a three-way civil war before being reunified under Cao Cao in the Wei Dynasty. It's got a ton of battles, a long, winding plot, and most importantly, a giant cast of badass warriors.

The games all take some pretty serious liberties with the story—Cao Cao might not win, for example. And it's a bit jarring when the beautiful maiden Diaochan gets some sharpened fans and starts kicking ass. But it portrays a massive, sweeping epic with an almost endless cast of godlike characters in a way that seems more genuine than what a movie would be capable of. It may not be deep, but it's broad, and there's value in that.

Last year, I talked to Dante's Inferno producer Jonathan Knight about what drew them to the Divine Comedy to adapt into a game. He said that a film adaptation wants simple narratives, but games thrive on complexity. Dante didn't just tell a story—he built a world to explore. And as luck would have it, it was full of giant monsters.

This Great Gatsby game, of course, takes about 15 minutes to play, and isn't exactly complex. But it does what an adaptation should do—draws what it needs from its source material and fills in the rest with gangsters, flappers, and ghosts. In its short shrift, it actually makes the appearance of Owl-Eyes, Meyer Wolfsheim, and Gatsby himself satisfying for a brief moment. The book itself is sort of endlessly beguiling, making an obviously skin-deep adaptation confusing for just long enough to be fun.

And for my 15 minutes, that's enough.