Games work best when paired with books, movies, and TV, as does wine
I don’t know much about wine, but I like to pretend, and I bet I’m not alone. Who else here—of drinking age, that is—has bought a red wine to go with dinner, because it “goes well with pasta”? How many times have you been served a glass of wine to “taste” in a fancy restaurant, going through all the hullabaloo of smacking your lips together and saying “oh yeah, attractive“even if it just tastes like wine? And, be honest now, do you do that thing where you try a new wine and then try to guess the random assortment of fruits on the label to show it off in front of your friends? “Oh, yes, plum, see, I mentioned stone fruit, didn’t I, Janice?” Yes, we’re all the same, and we have no idea what we’re talking about.
But here’s something I know: video games. I’ve been doing this job for a while now, and I’ve played quite a bit of it. I’m no digital media sommelier, but I’m certainly knowledgeable enough to recommend a hearty, robust RPG or a good indie palate cleanser, depending on your tastes. But I’d like to suggest a change in the way we talk about games, at the risk of sounding like the kind of person who won’t shut up about wine.
There are video games that are great, but even After so when paired with a book, movie, or TV show. There are several reasons: A book can tell you more about the historical setting; it can put you in the mood for a particular genre; or it can make you see the characters or the location in a new light. The right book can elevate a game’s subject far beyond the screen world, or help you better understand its subject matter. And sometimes it’s just nice to completely immerse yourself in a subgenre that you really enjoy.
With that in mind, I suggest we discuss our favorite “wine pairings” from games and other media. I will go first!
Hades + The Iliad / The Song of Achilles
We will start slowly. Hades, Supergiant’s brilliant narrative roguelite, is heavily based on ancient Greek myth. No particular myth, of course, but a nice assortment of pieces from everywhere.
My instinctive recommendation would be The Iliad – the colossal war epic that depicts the end of the Trojan War, but especially Achilles’ anger over a price-related beef with his commander – but honestly, that’s a bit heavy. There are whole chapters that just list all the ships that are present, or long passages describing shields. It’s a brilliant story, but it’s much better as something to listen to, rather than something to read, in my opinion.
(In reality, a group of Hades fans gathered to read The Iliad, with a foreword by Hades scribe Greg Kasavin. What serendipity.)
You might fare better with a more modern, fictional take on the Trojan War, which will give you better insight into the treatment of Achilles and Patroclus by Hades, his lover/cousin according to which scholars you believe (but reading the most interesting is the first, of course). Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles is the perfect companion to Hades because it takes the same approach: star-crossed lovers, torn apart by fate and fortune. Good luck getting through the gorgeous prose without sobbing, though.
Life is Strange + Twin Peaks
If you’re in the mood for unnerving happenings on the US West Coast, you really can’t go wrong with this dual feature. Life is Strange may not quite reach the Lynchian heights of weird, but it takes more than a light dash of inspiration from ’90s TV drama.
Who Killed Laura Palmer? What happened to Rachel Amber? The answer to the latter is a little simpler than the former, of course, but you’ll have to go through supernatural occurrences, prophetic nightmares, and time manipulation to get there.
Mix with Alan Wake and Silent Hill for an even stronger effect.
Celestial Vault + Arrival
Extraterrestrial civilizations and decoding language. Both are important threads in Heaven’s Vault and Arrival, but it’s not just a surface-level similarity they share: both are also about communication, translation, and how flawed it can be in the creation of a shared understanding between two factions.
Heaven’s Vault focuses on the past, through history, archeology and anthropology; Arrival is more about the present and the future actively trying to talk to an alien race. But both are concerned about what he means communicate, and why we do it in the first place. They both come together in a shared appreciation and understanding of linguistics and its impact on philosophy.
One for the language nerds, definitely.
Disco Elysium + Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook
Non-fiction and reference books are always books, and I think this one is a excellent twinning. Disco Elysium is an incredibly complex take on RPGs that borrows heavily from the world of tabletop role-playing, most notably the planescape Dungeons and Dragons setting.
Now, I could recommend a ton of D&D books, but I think the easiest to understand and find is probably the Player’s Handbook, which will introduce you to the world, races, classes, and general feel of D&D. Understanding a game like Dungeons and Dragons – and how to play it well – will give you a great idea (WIS) of how a game like Disco Elysium works.
Pair this one with Citizen Sleeper or Divinity: Original Sin 2 if you really like a TTRPG style game.
The Legend of Zelda + Second Quest
Second Quest is a graphic novel by David Hellman and Tevis Thompson that seeks to explore “what it really means to have courage”. It challenges the adventure, the legend, and even the game itself, and you’ll not only see Link and Zelda in its pages, but yourself too.
The book stems from Hellman and Thompson’s dissatisfaction with Zelda in the Wind Waker and Skyward Sword years, in which Nintendo moved away from the sense of discovery present in the early years and towards more traditional linear games. Hellman and Thompson instead envisioned a world more like Zelda 1, where mysteries go unanswered, in a world that has already been saved. It’s a mature, thoughtful, and thought-provoking take on the Zelda mythos that begs the question: what happens after the credits roll?
Haven + Saga
This one is easy. A couple fleeing the forces that want to tear them apart, with the themes of homosexuality, reunited family, freedom and love in the face of hatred. Is it the exploration game Haven, or is it the sci-fi graphic novel Saga? Trick question! It’s both!
Haven and Saga are a very good couple, almost too good, like wine and chocolate. It looks like cheating. It helps that they are both gorgeoustoo.
The Binding of Isaac + Midnight Mass
Not everyone is familiar with the themes of Catholic guilt and religious persecution that inspired Edmund McMillen’s gory dungeon-crawling roguelike The Binding of Isaac. At the very beginning of the game, the protagonist’s mother receives a message from God asking her to sacrifice her son as proof of her faith, and the rest of the game is about Isaac trying to escape, facing death, birth, and more. strongly religious themes. based on McMillen’s own family experience.
The obvious pairing is the Bible, since, you know, that’s where all the religion comes from in this case, but I think midnight mass might get the horror across more effectively. After all, The Binding of Isaac isn’t about the source material, it’s about its misuse for abuse and how religion can be weaponized. Fun!
Metro 2033 + Roadside picnic
Roadside Picnic is a 1972 Soviet Russian novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky set in the aftermath of an extraterrestrial event that left behind several “visiting areas”, in which strange and unexplained phenomena occur. Scavengers – known as stalkers – enter these areas to steal artifacts for profit. It was these stalkers who ultimately inspired the game HARLERamong many other movies, books and video games.
Metro 2033 is not based on Roadside Picnic. It’s actually based on a different novel by another Russian author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, called Metro 2033 – but since Metro 2033 (the book) was also influenced by Roadside Picnic, it’s clear they’re all the same. family, at least. There’s even a Roadside Picnic reference in Metro 2033!
If you’re a fan of melancholy, post-apocalyptic Russian stories about trying to survive in an almost uninhabitable, miserable world plagued by scarcity and uncertainty, then, uh, have fun with this couple!
Ace Attorney + Better Call Saul
Let’s end up having fun, okay? Everyone knows Ace Attorney isn’t an accurate representation of the legal system, and that’s part of the reason it’s so much fun. Cross-examine a parrot? Prove an orc is innocent? Is magic admissible in court? Sure why not! It’s the bewildering world of Phoenix Wright, where your prosecutor is more likely to be the real murderer than your friend!
Better Call Saul, on the other hand, deals with the grimy and inefficient nature of court in a city where all crime is either boring white-collar or drug manufacturing, smuggling, and cartel murders. You don’t get those stories in Ace Attorney, and likewise, you would never see Saul Goodman or Jimmy McGill trying to frame a ghost for murder.
But sometimes it’s fun to see the law from multiple angles. Death in Better Call Saul is a horrible thing that tears families apart; death in Ace Attorney doesn’t even keep people from showing up for work the next day, thanks to the Fey family’s ability to channel spirits. But the one thing Jimmy and Phoenix have in common is their ability to turn a deal around in a split second, and it’s a joy to watch them both.
I may not know much about wine except that it’s great to drink sangria in the sun, but I like to think that a good video game/book/movie/TV couple is just as satisfying as a Rioja which goes very well with a steak. I hope you also found some appealing pairings on this menu – and I’d love to know what your recommendations are in the comments!