10 YA Novels That Take You Inside Video Game Worlds

EpicFor me, video games and young adult novels go together like peanut butter and jelly, Oreo cookies and milk, pizza and pepperoni. They’re my one true pairing, offering up a fun escape into other worlds with the flip of a page or the touch of a power button.

So really, it comes as no surprise that every now and again, video games end up playing a serious role in YA. Sometimes their role is cute and playful, like a budding romance set in an MMORPG, but other times the stakes are far higher, like when saving the human race goes under the guise of playing a video game. I’ve rounded up a bunch of YAs (and one graphic novel!) blending gaming and fiction. Press X to continue.

Epic, by Conor Kostick
A fun twist on the whole people-living-life-in-games concept, Epic takes you into a sci-fi world where violence has been banished and all conflicts are resolved in a fantasy computer game called Epic. The perks of playing? If you win, you get to go to college, support your community and family…basically, everything you’ve ever wanted comes true.

And if you lose? Your life is ruined. And when a teenager named Erik wants to avenge his parents and challenges the rules of the game, he finds himself (and his friends) in a battle against the game’s controllers—the outcome of which might free the world from the fantasy realm. The trilogy (check out Saga and Edda) spans virtual realms, introducing you to scores of new characters and conflicts.

The Six, by Mark Alpert
In Alpert’s The Six, a rogue artificial intelligence is plotting world domination, and begins by hacking into the virtual reality world a young gamer, Adam, inhabits. In Adam’s world, he can do most anything. Unfortunately, in the real world, Adam suffers from muscular dystrophy, which has stolen a lot from him. The only chance the world has at protecting itself from this rogue A.I. is the virtual world and technology (created by Adam’s father) that’s preserving Adam’s mind. He joins other terminally ill teenagers to form The Six, using their unique minds to control combat robots and prepare for an epic battle with Sigma.

Guy In Real Life, by Steve Brezenoff
G.I.R.L. is a hilarious YA contemporary romance about two mismatched geeks who run into each other unexpectedly: one a heavy metal–loving, all-black-wearing MMO gamer, the other a master of D&D who makes her own clothing. The result is one of my favorite geek love stories of all time. Can’t recommend it enough. Full disclosure: I did a reading with Steve Brezenoff once, at which he read from a section of Guy in Real Life that involved the characters running around in an MMORPG. It’s during these scenes, when the characters romp around in online worlds, that the book shines the brightest, full of vivid depictions of the gaming world mixed with jokes that will leave gamers in stitches.

Also See: In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang, another YA story that jumps in and out of an MMORPG. It’s a wonderfully touching graphic novel that also teaches readers about virtual economics in online video games.

The Leveller, by Julia Durango
What’s a Leveller? Their job is to jump into virtual realty sims and drag kids out and back to their parents in the real world. Nixy Bauer has the job and is happy to make some easy money, despite the fact that her classmates seriously dislike her. (Who likes a hall monitor?) Now, if you’re wondering why someone’s needed to pull kids out of the world, it’s because these games are played entirely with one’s mind, leaving the body asleep. Parents need Levellers to intervene so their kids can do their homework, get some fresh air, or just get off the darn couch. Things take a twist when she’s hired to look for the game developer’s son, who doesn’t want to be located—and even leaves behind a suicide note. Lots of romance and video game geekery ensue.

Also See: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Though not technically a YA, it definitely crosses over, and is one of my favorite books. Get psyched for the Spielberg adaptation, readers.

The Eye of Minds, by James Dashner
You might recognize Dashner’s name. He wrote this lil’ series called The Maze Runner? It’s done pretty well. His newest series, The Mortality Doctrine, takes you out of the maze and into the VirtNet. Readers adventure along with Michael, a passionate gamer who spends his days exploring fantasy worlds in gaming and brushing up on his hacking skills. But when a gamer takes players hostage inside the virtual realm, the government comes after Michael. They recruit him to go in and catch this gamer before he takes more hostages, leaving more people brain-dead and locked in the game.

And hey, after you’ve devoured this book, there are more to check out! The sequel, The Rule of Thoughts, is out now, and the third book in Dashner’s Mortality Doctrine series, The Game of Lives, comes out this November.

Insignia, by S.J. Kincaid: In Kincaid’s epic sci-fi trilogy, Tom Raines finds himself swept up in World War III. The planet is running out of resources, people are battling to control the solar system, and Tom’s just a guy who loves his video games. But he’s incredible at them, so much so that he gets recruited by the Intrasolar Forces, who want to use his gaming abilities to control their battle drones.

The great thing about this series is how richly Kincaid imagines the devastated world. The war, the technology, the politics…there’s so much detail here, so much to explore. And the best part is, you can explore a lot of it, as you’ve got two more books, and a novella to scope out once you’ve finished Insignia: Allies, Vortex, and Catalyst.

Also See: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, in which video games and virtual realms play a big role, and Rush, by Eve Silver, another awesome sci-fi YA read in which the main character is trapped in a virtual realm that turns out to be less of a game than she thought. (Also a series, with the latest installment, Crash, out this month.)


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