A film version of Lois Lowry’s award-winning 1994 novel The Giver was green-lit a while ago. The release date and most of the cast is yet unknown, but of one thing I am sure. Where there’s fire there’s smoke, and where there are teen fantasy productions there are video game tie-ins.
For the fun of wild speculation, I offer three possible treatments of the book and its utopian/dystopian universe. And if you’ve never read the book and still intend to, I must warn ye; here be spoilers.
- The Giver
A straight adaptation would be the obvious, and most likely approach. The game would play as a 3D platformer. Players would control Jonas as he wanders around, does errands, plays war games, and talks to his family. Sound boring? Well, there are all of the Giver’s memories to be sucked into as well. These would comprise the bulk of the game’s action. Some extrapolation would be required, but it’d be easy enough to create levels based on the memories mentioned in the novel. One as a soldier at war, one as a musician or composer, etc. After each memory the gameworld would appear different, as per what Jonas experienced. An initially silent monochrome world gains color and music.
Eventually the difference between the complexity and beauty of the memories and the empty and tedious village prompts Jonas to run away with his brother Gabriel. The end. The game would only take 10-15 hours to wrap, but would provide a unique, and faithful experience.
- The Giver: Aftermath.
A more interesting approach could have all of the events of the book act as tutorial and intro cutscene. Players would learn combat during the war games, and learn how to take and transfer memories during Jonas’ visits with the giver. This might take an hour or so, and then once Jonas runs away with his brother, the real adventure would begin. The game would play as 3D action-survival with RPG elements. But instead of your characters leveling up in the typical fashion, their abilities and stats would be based on the memories they have.Memories could be transferred from one character to another, and would either be acquired in battle, or by interacting with NPCs. Jonas and Gabriel would come upon other villages and wanderers and help them, teach and learn from them. The conclusion could explain how Jonas began his own community, tying the game to the later books in Lois Lowry’s quadrilogy. However, this type of adaptation would require much more risk and work on the part of the developer, and thus will never be made.
- The Kingdom of Qualia: A Giver Inspired Experience.
Rather than attempting to retell or extrapolate on the Giver’s narrative, one could instead focus on more conceptual aspects, and see if they could translate into gameplay. Ignoring the characters, plot and setting, what was compelling about the Giver? What was unique? I think for most people, Jonas seeing the color red for the first time stands out as a very memorable part of The Giver. Kids are fascinated by this idea that other people could see the world differently than them, that one person’s grey is another’s red. Could this become a game in itself?
How about a game which starts with no color, sound, or other indication of a world. The player moves a small white dot about an endless black void. There is a world there, but they cannot yet sense it. But sooner or later, they bump into something, and their perception changes.
If they bump into a worm, they can now sense the world like a worm: A pinhole of vision, a camera oriented for up and down, and the vaguest rumblings of sound. With their new found senses, the player can attempt to find more creatures and gain more ‘memories’ of the world’s aspects. Part of the fun would be revisiting old areas (umwelten) with your new senses (qualia) and seeing what they ‘really’ look like.
Memories could also come with tasks or missions, or could eventually tell a utopian/dystopia story like the Giver’s, but I don’t think this would be necessary. Instead the game could be a free-roaming experience which shows, rather than dictates, how our senses and knowledge about the world color (sometimes literally) our universe, and no single outlook is objectively true or ‘real’.
But we all know that if the Giver does ever get made into a game, it will run something like the first treatment. It maintains the known narrative, and that’s what people are looking for. Extrapolating the story or translating the spirit into gameplay is something too risky to be common… but it’s still fun to dream about.