Introduction—John Joseph Adams

I’m an editor through and through; I eat, sleep, and breathe prose fiction and am a relentless consumer of narrative entertainment. But my earliest, most formative pop culture memories from my childhood are not from books.

They’re from video games.

Video games have been such a formative force, in fact, that you could say I owe my anthology-editing career to them. My first anthology, Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, was a reprint anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction, which I grew to love while playing the 1988 game Wasteland and then 1997’s Fallout, both created by the brilliant Brian Fargo. Immersing myself in Wasteland’s apocalyptic setting for hours on end (not to mention the many hours copying floppy disks each time I wanted to start a new game) instilled in me a love for that particular subgenre that I’ve never been able to shake—despite having read many hundreds of books and short stories on the subject, and even having now done five different anthologies centered on the theme. (Or seven if you count zombie fiction as part of the same genre. Or eight if you also count my previous anthology with Daniel H. Wilson, Robot Uprisings.)

But Wasteland was hardly my first gaming love; I can remember playing video games as early as five or six years old—playing Gorf on my Commodore VIC-20, or Space Invaders on my Atari 2600, or Zork on my sister’s TRS-80. When my mom got us an IBM with—get this—a whole megabyte of RAM, I played the hell out of King’s Quest in glorious CGA color. And even later, on my trusty Commodore 64—which would become my primary gaming device for many years—I lost many months of my life to the magnificent Ultima IV. Because of its focus on virtues and how the choices you make have consequences, surely I’m not the only one to think that that game made me grow up to be a better person than I might have otherwise?

And then of course came the Nintendo Entertainment System, which revolutionized gaming—and my brain—with games like Metroid, Final Fantasy, and The Legend of Zelda. (One of the bitterest traumas of my youth was that I lost my copy of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link when my house was robbed. I was only three-quarters of the way through. Oh, the despair I felt at having to start all over!) That was soon followed by the Sega Genesis, whose allure actually got me to truly care about school for the first time in my life after I made a deal with my mom that I’d get one for Christmas if I got straight As one semester. (Spoiler alert: I did it! My one and only time to meet that goal in any of my precollege schooling.)

In my teens, I took a detour where I mostly played games on an Amiga computer, including Carmageddon, Bard’s Tale, Populous, and two of my favorite games ever—Sid Meier’s Pirates! and Civilization. During that “Amiga summer,” a kid in my neighborhood was up on his roof with a .22 rifle shooting stuff for fun. He decided to shoot at the roof of my house, only he missed and shot at the walls of my house. Had I been sitting at the Amiga playing a game—as was pretty damn likely, as this was the middle of summer vacation—I very well could have been killed. Fortunately I was a teenager and slept till noon that day.

Since staying up late gaming the night before possibly saved me from being shot, it seemed only reasonable that I should devote the extra life (get it?) I’d been given to gaming even more. So I progressed to a PlayStation 1, then PS2, then to an Xbox 360 and PS3. Along the way I became a wizard at playing fake plastic guitar and can pick a Skyrim or Fallout 3 lock like nobody’s business; sometimes I’ll pick locks for my wife, and she’s astonished each time, as if I’m performing a magic trick. Just last year, video games caused me to do perhaps the geekiest thing I’ve ever done—and as someone who is essentially a professional geek, I don’t say that lightly. I created a custom football team in Madden and named all of the players after characters from science fiction and fantasy. There’s something so appropriate about watching a player named “the Nazgûl” relentlessly pursuing a quarterback.

That brings us more or less to the present. This has been by no means a comprehensive overview of my life as a gamer, but merely some highlights that stick out in my mind. Alas, at this point in my life, because I work from home and have only myself to keep me on task, I have to actually consciously avoid video games (though that doesn’t always work). If I even start one, before I know it I’m sucked in and want to do nothing but play.

The truth is: I love them too much.

And I’m not alone.

Video games have become a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry that has outpaced movies and books combined. The humble, pixelated games of the ’70s and ’80s have evolved into the vivid, realistic, and immersive form of entertainment that now rivals all other forms of media for dominance in the consumer marketplace. For many, video games have become the cultural icons around which the entire entertainment industry revolves.

So if exploring video games has become one of the primary ways we create and experience narratives, I thought: Why not create some narratives that explore the way we create and experience video games?

In this book you will find twenty-six stories that re-create the feel of a video game in prose form, stories that play with the core concepts of video games, and stories about the creation or playing of video games themselves.

We asked a wide array of writers to participate, several of whom work in the video game industry—such as Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life), Austin Grossman (Dishonored), Micky Neilson (World of Warcraft), Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider), and Chris Avellone (Fallout: New Vegas)—as well as new and notable writers of science fiction and fantasy, including original stories by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (All You Need Is Kill, basis for the film Edge of Tomorrow), Seanan McGuire (Half-Off Ragnarok), Charles Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe), Robin Wasserman (The Waking Dark), Andy Weir (The Martian), and Hugh Howey (Wool), and reprints by T. C. Boyle (World’s End), Catherynne M. Valente (Deathless), Ken Liu (The Grace of Kings), Cory Doctorow (Little Brother), and others.

Admittedly I can’t really be impartial about any of my books, but, to quote GLaDOS: it’s hard to overstate my satisfaction with how the anthology turned out. I might even go so far as to say this was a triumph. And if I had to make a note here, it would say huge success.