Part of me wishes their were more computer games about Gladiatorial Combat.
I find that when I am writing I can use other media, such as games, pictures, and movies to get my creative juices flowing, to give me a burst of inspiration when I really need it. I used to use this to great effect when running tabletop games, pumping myself up with Rune or 13th warrior before sitting down to write or play my Nordan Saga game (unpublished). Being able to play Skyrim would no doubt inspire me to dust it off for another glorious campaign, or just to work on it at the very least. Playing Total War: Napoleon has given me a few ideas for a steam-punk setting that could work as a book, rpg, or computer game. This cycle of inspiration used to cause me quite a bit of stress, as I would get hot or cold on something based on what I was playing or watching, but I’ve learned to use it to my advantage.
If I play a computer game that gives me ideas for a setting or story, I quickly jot down some notes (I’m always taking notes, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to write stuff down). Then I wait until I move on to another game, movie, book, and wait for the obsession to die down. If the notes seem interesting to me later, evoking a little of that manic excitement, then I know I have something.
Other, respectable, authors have noted that computer games can influence their work. This is only fair, since it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that fantasy books influence computer games. Here are a few of the more modern games that I think are currently available and influencing the Fantasy Genre.
1) Assassin’s Creed (AC). For better, or for worse, the assassin is king in Modern Fantasy. A fairly large number of the best and most popular fantasy series out there feature assassins as main characters or part of the team in larger casts. Even GRRM has a nod to the assassin’s guild in his series. The Assassins in Ubisofts Assassins Creed games are one man killing machines, highly skilled in all the killing arts, secretly protecting civilization from the shadows. They often seem benevolent, although you would not want to bump into one on the street or get caught in the crossfire. What Ubisoft does well, aside from putting a very human face on a horrible profession, is create the feeling of a different world that takes place in back alleys and rooftop chases. They also reinforce the expectation that the assassin is an ultra-competent character and a thinking man/woman to boot, which is actually fairly ahistorical. Many modern authors take these ideas and add brilliant twists of their own (often magic), using the imagery provided by the AC games or playing against the expectations created by them. Dishonoured, although it has more steampunk and an original setting might have a similar
2) World of Warcraft (WoW). Aside from the actual world of warcraft novels I can’t think of any books based directly off of WoW or even WoW with the serial numbers filed off (I’m sure others can, though). That is the only reason WoW is second on the list. With millions of players at any time WoW has replaced Tolkien as the vernacular of Fantasy. If a trope exists in WoW, an author can use it at connect instantly with a large audience. Crazy weapons and armour styles, Steampunk Goblins/Gnomes, and certain monsters are now more widepread in fantasy than ever before because of WoW. In terms of broad influence this game is hard to beat, since it is constantly expanding and adding new content which frequently contains references to popular fantasy. I like to think of WoW as the great Fantasy aggregator. Other popular fantasy MMOS, like Guild Wars, can have a similar influence. Some lane defence games, especially League of Legends, also serves as popular fantasy aggregators.
3) Elder Scrolls. Bethesda’s Elder scrolls series is very popular with fantasy enthusiasts. I expect to see an uptick in viking themed fantasy series soon. What makes this particular series interesting for writers however is the detailed character creation and modding. These allow enterprising authors to customize the game to their hearts content and get the exact favour of inspiration that they want. Maybe I just want to play Skyrim (400 sales to go!)
4) Dragon Age. I hate and I love this series… Dragon Age has some obvious literary influences, which it shares with a wide swath of modern fantasy. What makes it interesting is how it amalgamates these tropes into a cohesive whole which is now influencing other writers. The hyper-violent combat, the oppressed elves, the decadent socially divided Dwarves, and the idea that magic users are potentially dangerous can all be found elsewhere but this game does push the tropes into a writer’s consciousness. I also love the themes of corruption show up in the Darkspawn and the Deep Roads, again these are nothing new but the presentation alone can be inspiring. Dragon age also relies on characterization more than most games, which is a great reminder about the importance of well written characters. (It is the only good part of Dragon Age 2, actually and manages to carry an otherwise flawed game)
5) Pokemon. Yeah, I went there. Pokemon has a subtle influence on fantasy worlds. The magic system in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alara has is somewhat based off of Pokemon (which he admits, apparently it was part of a bet/challenge). Pretty much any work of fantasy with magical animal/monster companions could do worse than Pokemon as an inspiration. Look at the Hordes tabletop miniatures game — warlocks and warbeasts are basically trainers and their pokemon in many ways.
6) Legend of Zelda. A great inspiration for classical Fantasy, this beloved game series takes place in a lush world with a humble protagonist taking on a great evil. People love this series so much, it is easy to see how in influences some of the less gritty stuff.
There are of course, many more, especially if you include older games like Final Fantasy 7 or Ultima. The only Fantasy Gladiator game that I can think of, although most games have an arena or two, is Gladius a venerable title that serves as a source of inspiration for my own Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale. Sadly I don’t have anything that will play it so I have to rely on googling gladiatorial art (hit and miss) or watching Gladiator or Spartacus to rev my engines. As Fantasy games of all sorts become more and more influential I expect to see more and more influence appear in fantasy writing (and vice-versa of course, Fantasy authors who “make it” will be very tempted to make their mark on computer games (and tabletop).