There’s no denying that Stephen King is one of the mostly influential novelists of the twentieth century. His prolific novel output is matched only by the works his stories have inspired, from Netflix’s Stranger Things to games such as Alan Wake and Resident Evil VII: Biohazard. However, that raises the question; what Stephen King stories would make good video games? I’m going to avoid the obvious answer of ‘turn all of the terrifying horror novels into horror games’, and see what else we can do with some of King’s fiction.
The Running Man
The Running Man deals with a totalitarian America in dire economic straits. One way of making money is participating in a game show, ‘The Running Man’, a government-sponsored reality show with a twist; the participants of the show are all designated as enemies of the state and must avoid execution by Hunters, an elite team of hitmen. The participant is given $4800 and a twelve-hour head start at the beginning of the show. They can go anywhere in the world, provided they send two video recordings to the show’s studio every day. The participant gains one hundred dollars for every hour they stay alive. They also gains one hundred dollars for every Hunter or cop that they kill. If the participant manages to survive for a full thirty days, they get a billion dollars. No-one ever makes it to thirty days.
The Running Man technically has a video game adaptation already, a beat ‘em up based on the Schwarzenegger-helmed movie version. However, the story concept has a lot more depth and adaptability than the terrible game that was released for the Amiga A500.
This setting is rife for exploration in a video game. You could design a game with similar mechanics to FTL, a sci-fi rogue-like wherein you choose a path for your spaceship while evading a large hostile fleet, and The Organ Trail, a zombie-filled survival game featuring random encounters with the end goal of reaching a sanctuary free of the zombies.
Taking concepts from these games, the rogue-like Running Man game could feature a character who has decided to take part in the game show. You would start out in a randomized US state and travel around the country, evading Hunters and law enforcement. All the while, you’d upgrade your equipment and encounter random events that could be either a boon or a detriment to your character. You win if you make it to thirty days, a turn being every eight hours where you can choose to move or rest. Hunters become steadily more aggressive and cunning as the game progresses. They are hidden from you on the map unless you manage to gather information.
In addition to the classic ‘win’ ending, there could be optional plot-relevant paths to take dependent on how encounters are handled, including options to take down “The Running Man” show for good—or join it to hunt down other participants.
One of my personal favorites. Firestarter is the story of a pyrokinetic pre-teen girl and her father, who are on the run from a shady governmental organization known as the Shop.
There are several ways this concept could be adapted into a video game format. The easiest would be a direct translation into an action-adventure title, akin to The Last of Us, where you’d play as both the father (with a limited, health-based mind control ability known as “the push”) and daughter (with a seemingly limitless fire-starting ability) in different segments of the game. However, I think a better take on a video game would be to explore the wider concept of the Shop and its experiments with ability-inducing drugs. This could take the form of an original story where you control a character with unique abilities. The story would be a sequel to the novel, and feature the Shop as antagonists. The game would feature power-based gameplay similar to Infamous. It would also feature a morality system based on in-game actions which would be reflected in how secondary characters react to you, in a similar manner to the Deus Ex series.
Alternatively, you could play as an agent of the Shop tasked with hunting down these powered individuals. In this scenario, the game would play as a third person shooter with a branching level-based progression. You would decide which targets to focus on and how to take them out (lethal or non-lethal, for instance). Additionally, the agent-centered game could feature different types of mission, as other Stephen King stories have referred to the organization as being involved in all sorts of paranormal phenomena beyond the premise of Firestarter. This version of the game could also feature an action-based morality system, as described above.
The Dark Tower
After a disappointing cinema debut, Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower, could do with a great video game to please some of the fans annoyed at the big screen adaptation. Rather than repeating or transforming the events of the epic novel series, a new chapter set in Midworld would be the perfect place to expand King’s fantasy; and what better way than an open-world role-playing game set in the time of Roland Deschain’s original ka-tet, before the world has fully ‘moved on’?
The video game would be a prequel to the events of the series, during Gilead’s last days. Gilead, for those who haven’t read the novels, is Roland’s hometown built by the legendary Arthur Eld, Midworld’s version of King Arthur. The gunslingers of Gilead are lead by descendants of Eld. They are the setting’s knight equivalent.
You’d play as a gunslinger loyal to Stephen Deschain, Roland’s father and leader of the city, during and after the events leading up to the sacking of the city, before crossing paths with a young Roland, taking us up to the tragic events of the Battle of Jericho Hill, where our gunslinger’s story would come to the end. The game would feature a choice system akin to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, where decisions would alter quest lines and the world state. Other elements of the game would hold some similarity to Red Dead Redemption in terms of setting, open world mechanics and gunplay, combined with dark fantasy elements King crafted so well in his fantasy series.
Alternatively, the original novels could translate well into a retro cRPG or even a J-style RPG, sticking to the core story while featuring turn-based random encounter combat in the style of Final Fantasy. I think the land of Midworld is ripe for open-world style exploration, however, with the context of a prequel allowing for a fun romp through this unique fantasy-western setting.
Do you have any suggestions about how a Stephen King story should be adapted into a fun video game? Let me know in the comments below, or send me an abusive tweet @georgecheesee for being so dense as to not include Telltale’s The Stand, and so on.