Are Visual Novels a part of the Comic Book Family?

By Carter Glace, Staff Writer

Scouring the Steam store front last week—Steam being the popular distribution service for video games,including unique, eclectic and immensely popular games such as Hatoful Boyfriend and Aviary Attorney—I came across an interesting release: the game “Half-Life: A Place in the West.” An independent spin-off in the critically acclaimed and long dormant  series, the game is a part of the “Interactive Novel” genre, which is rather prominent in Steam’s library. The basic concept is that the games are largely text based.  A player will read through the actions—accompanied by images—and frequently be asked to make decisions that shape the story. Essentially, it’s a choose your own adventure novel. But when the game’s bio describes its “comic book visuals,” it dawned on me: is there a potential future for comic books here?

I’ve seen so many interactive novels, it never dawned on me that we might be mislabeling them. After all, they are all by definition “graphic novels.” They use a collection of images, dialogue and text to tell a story. They are still images, so it couldn’t be mistaken for animation.  While they typically rely more on the text than the images, there are plenty of acclaimed comics that rely on the same thing.

So interactive novels could be classified as comics, so what? Well, I think the industry is missing a vital opportunity to enter this field.  Last year I asked why we weren’t seeing more great video game-based comic books, but it’s also worth asking where the great comic book video games have gone. With the Batman Arkham series ending on more of a whimper than a bang, and Insomniac’s Spider-man game still a ways out, there is a noticeable dearth of games based on comic books. In many ways, interactive novels would be a perfect remedy for this problem, as they not only would be quicker and easier to produce than oversized, AAA games, but they would be made in house. Plenty of comic book companies have turned their comics into visual novels, moving through the action with voice actors. Interactive Novels would simply add the element of player choice.

Speaking from an outsider’s perspective, I think this would be an exciting avenue for any comic writer to take on. It would allow them to build on their characters and worlds in new and interesting ways while reaching out to many people who, while not necessarily comic book readers, would find this as an engaging new avenue. Just think about the amount of new readers the rise in comic book films has brought in.

And I think that’s what interests me in this idea the most. In the Internet Age of media, a great IP deserves to be seen in as many mediums as possible. And it just so happens that these interactive novels are tailor made for comic book writers and artists to expand their creations into the world of video games. I’m for anything that expands the presence of the industry, and this feels like an absolute no brainer.

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