The best novels are immersive -- either their plots compel readers to turn page after page, or their ideas buzz wildly in our minds. But novels necessarily don't inundate all of our senses. Unlike most other artistic mediums, much of the sensory legwork must be completed on the part of the readers' imagination. As designer Peter Mendelsund showed in his book What We See When We Read, there's a significant discrepancy between how an author describes a character's physical appearance, and how an audience envisions it.
He writes, "Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail. We fill in gaps. We shade them in. We gloss over them. We elide. Our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites." In fact, a police composite sketch of Anna Karenina made based on the novel's musings falls short of the striking beauty most readers imagine.
So, imagination may be the chief difference between reading a novel and taking in a narrative that's produced in the form of a game. Another distinction: While most games involve agency on the part of their players, most novels do not. There are exceptions, of course: choose-your-own-adventure books, and games that serve the purpose of illustrating the powerlessness we have against forces of fate (play Passage if you haven't). But for the most part readers don't expect to change any course of action, large or small, when they curl up with a book.
With these criteria in mind, we've rounded up a handful of apps that feature stories book lovers will enjoy. These aren't likely to appeal as much to the Candy Crush set as they are to voracious subway readers. Take a look, and play on:
The muted color palette and sketched edges underscore the folkloric themes of Alex Epstein's story-turned-app, True Legends
, produced by Electric Literature. When Epstein wrote a short, fable-like story about a blind piano repairman, it caught the attention of Tsach Weinberg, who used the story as a jumping-off point for an iPad app. Weinberg designed and illustrated the tale, which was then scored by Ulrich Ziegler. The result is a multimedia experience that, as Epstein says
, explores how "literature might look in the next decades."
is a straight-up lit mag, featuring work old and new from writers established and emerging. It aggregates pieces published by great magazines, and illustrates each story beautifully. Each issue also spotlights an up-and-coming band, and some stories are repurposed with audio or video.
The creators of Device 6
-- a Swedish two-person team called Simogo -- call their apps "game-like things," as the narrative and beautiful design is front-and-center, and users have little agency in the outcome of the stories.
They call Device 6 "a surreal thriller in which the written word is your map," which sounds not unlike a choose-your-own adventure novel. While puzzles are worked into the text, the central question in the story is "why?" not "what?" making it more literary than comparable mystery apps.
The Sailor's Dream
The Sailor's Dream
, "a peaceful narrative experience, in which the only objective is to satisfy your curiosity." Woolf fans will enjoy the app, which is more of a narrative concept in a story, as it plays with time (see: waves-as-metaphor), allowing hours within its world to elapse even after users close it.
More so than the other apps collected here, Blackbar
could neatly be categorized as a game rather than a story, as it features puzzles that must be solved by determining the words blacked out in letters between corresponding friends.
Lit nerds are sure to enjoy this thoughtful commentary on censorship, as told by "Kenty," one of many characters whose writing is obscured by a "Department of Communication."
App Developer Big Bucket bills newly released Space Age
as "a golden-age science-fiction story come to immersive life." It's done in the precious and popularizing 8-bit style, meant to simulate '90s video games, but the story is much richer than, say, Galaga. The writing may not be stellar on a sentence level ("Interplanetary travel is stressful!"), but the plot promises to pull readers in.
Blood & Laurels
Blood & Laurels
is an interactive fiction app -- a genre that's a sort of digital rendition of choose-your-own adventure stories. Each interactive fiction plot has multiple and varying outcomes, and Blood & Laurels, which chronicles Rome in its tumultuous heyday, is no exception. The story whirls around protagonist Marcus, who's "concerned with two things: his poetry, and keeping his patron Artus happy." His fate, as well as the city's, are in the player's hands.