Netflix may have already disclosed (unintentionally) the release date for this year’s most awaited series premiere, “The Witcher.” Starring the “Man of Steel” Henry Cavill, the Netflix series will be based on the original book series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, who wrote the first “Witcher” story nearly forty years ago. His novels and short story collections surrounding monster-hunter Geralt of Rivia became very popular in his home country of Poland and, to a lesser extent, in other Eastern European countries; the author has also earned several awards, including honorary ones from the European Science Fiction Society and World Fantasy Awards.
Yet just twelve years ago, Sapkowski sold the rights for the adaptation of his Witcher series into video games, for a reported sum of ten thousand euros – a “paltry” sum, given that CD Projekt Red, the unassuming Polish company that acquired the rights, went on to make The Witcher one of the most commercially successful game series of the 21st century, selling over forty million copies worldwide as of June 2019. This led to a curious debacle between Sapkowski and CD Projekt Red in 2018, as the author felt he was entitled to a larger compensation than the amount he had agreed to when he sold the rights – even though the author had previously admitted he did not believe the games would ever become this profitable and that said belief, along with grievances from previous attempts to make a Witcher game, led him to choose being paid a stipulated amount upfront over a percentage of the games’ sales. The debacle has since been resolved amicably, which bodes well for the millions of The Witcher fans who look forward to a fourth installment in the game series. For now, they will have to do with the Netflix series, the Gwent and Thronebreaker spinoffs – and of course, the books.
The Witcher series is but one example of how video game adaptations have made Eastern European novels and short stories popular in the West. Although Sapkowski’s works already enjoyed plenty of recognition in Central and Eastern Europe prior to the advent of the game series, it was the game series that propelled The Witcher franchise to global stardom, introducing millions of players worldwide to the Polish author’s work.
And like The Witcher, other games have given exposure to the novels they draw upon. Another great example of this is the Metro game series, based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel Metro 2033 and its sequels. Set in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, the games brought Glukhovsky’s work to worldwide attention, and the Russian author even collaborated directly with the game developers in the sequel Metro: Last Light – which in turn prompted the author to write the third entry in his book series, Metro 2035.
Like Metro, the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is set in a post-apocalyptic alternative reality. It was praised for its design and dark, sinister atmosphere, capturing the essence and terror of a decaying Chernobyl complex and its mutated denizens. The game is based on the novel Stalker by Russian authors Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, a novel based on Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie of the same name, which in turn is based on Strugatsky Brothers’ earlier novel, Roadside Picnic. It’s a chain of events that has led audiences from all around the world to read the Strugatsky’s novels and to watch Tarkovsky’s feature film.
Even Nobel Prize laureates like Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz benefit from the exposure games provide to their books. While best known internationally for his novel Quo Vadis – which was reviewed by Biblion in issue #10 – and its epic 1951 adaptation to the silver screen, Sienkiewicz is most popular in his native homeland for his trilogy of historical novels set in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. TaleWorlds Entertainment, the creators of open-world RPG Mount and Blade, released a standalone version of the game entitled Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword, which is loosely based on Sienkiewicz’s trilogy, especially the two first books, With Fire and Sword and The Deluge. The game has been commended for its recreation of the historical characters, places, factions and events from the novels.
Video game adaptations of novels are nothing out of the ordinary, but their impact in bringing Eastern European literature closer to global audiences cannot be understated. While not a foolproof formula for either commercial success or critical acclaim in the gaming industry, the usage of novels as foundations for games is generally positive for both the games and the novels – not to mention ourselves, the players and readers who love when a good game directs us to an equally good book we had never even heard of before.
About the Author:
Daniel T. Gomes is a graphic designer and content writer from Lisbon, Portugal. He currently serves as Biblion’s Assistant Editor, having played a crucial role in the magazine since its inception. He is also a self-published author and one of the hosts of the biweekly Broklahomies Podcast.