Games, Gamers & Gaming: Armchair Action Heroes, Pt. 1

Action/adventure games‚ arguably the oldest genre in video‚ occupies the lion’s share of shelf space in your collection. Its evolution is less nuanced and storied than that of the first-person shooter genre (see LJ 2/15/12; LJ 3/15/12), with a slow, steady progression over time as opposed to an accelerated period of rapid expansion and change. Countless games could be mentioned in tracing the history of action/adventure titles, but to study this genre’s history is to study the rise of video games as a whole. Let’s talk about a few of the best.

>Big stories, bigger heroes

The focus for building a collection with a strong core of action/adventure games is to find titles offering excellent game play while elevating the experience to include a gripping story and memorable characters. You don’t want to invest in games that sacrifice story for play‚ if your patron wants to read a book, he’ll read a book!

Historically, one of the greatest video games is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the original Sony Playstation, developed and published by Konami. Although well more than a decade old (a dinosaur in video-game life spans), you may be surprised at just how many of your patrons still have a functioning PS One and/or a Playstation 2 (which plays PS One games). Castlevania puts you in the role of Alucard, Dracula’s estranged son, who wants nothing of his father’s cruel ways. Alucard must stop his father’s resurrection by exploring the vampire’s castle, fighting grotesque monsters inspired by classic literature and mythology, and gathering powerful holy relics.

The Legend of Zelda series is another long-standing action/adventure staple. Just about every related game is a sure bet, but you’ll especially want to stock Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword for the Nintendo Wii. Twilight Princess was significantly darker than most other games in the line, casting you as the hero in a desperate struggle to stop an evil being from an alternate reality from taking over the land of Hyrule. Skyward Sword is set in the game world’s distant past and serves as a prequel for every game previously published, so longtime fans have appreciated some of the plot revelations presented. The Zelda games tend to play the way a really good children’s book reads; they’re appropriate for younger gamers and older gamers alike and make for some fun family experiences (despite being single-player titles).

A great game might not always be a good family experience, however, as is epitomized by the God of War series. As the Spartan warrior Kratos, players wage a one-man wave of vengeance against the gods of Olympus. Debuting on the Playstation 2, all three games now are available on the Playstation 3 (look for the God of War Collection). Each game is filled to the brim with some of the most heart-pounding combat ever seen in a video game, complemented by well-designed puzzles in absolutely gorgeous environments. However, they are also extremely violent and rife with sexual content. Add them to your collection‚ they’re classics‚ but keep these away from younger gamers.

The Uncharted series is the newest darling of action/adventure fans. The developers have hit all the right switches for excitement and danger, casting the player in the role of Nathan Drake, a charming rogue who makes his living pursuing treasure. There are three Uncharted games, each with its own set of excellent game-play memories, all for Playstation 3. It’s an absolute given that your gaming collection will include them.

Playing in the sandbox

In 2001, Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto III, a game that puts players in the role of a recent prison escapee who takes jobs for the mob to get ahead in the criminal underworld. It was violent, crass, and controversial‚ and an expertly designed game with a big story that unfolded at a delicate pace and introduced the sandbox genre.

The sandbox genre is an offshoot from action/adventure games. These titles add a thick layer of exploration by removing the traditional level structure and just plopping the gamer down into a virtual environment with few to no limits on where they can go and in what order they can accomplish play objectives. There were games in this genre long before Grand Theft Auto III (the early Legend of Zelda games, for example), but this game marked the point where they became their own genre, with deep action/adventure roots.

My next column (LJ 5/15/12) will cover more of the great action/adventure titles, including some modern classics. Until then, keep telling yourself‚ just one more level!

M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins ( is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.


  1. I don’t want to be overly critical, but the columnist does realize that sandbox style gaming begain neither with Grand Theft Auto III, nor even with computer games in general, right?

  2. M. Brandon Robbins says:

    It’s true that sandbox gaming is far older than GTA III–and video games themselves. However, this article is intended to look at the essentials of video game collection development–the must-have titles that are of significant and historical value to video games as an art form and recreational outlet. GTA III is the game often credited with bringing the sandbox genre to the masses. While many of its mechanics were not new, it was the game which perfected those mechanics (or at least, had the most fully realized implementations of said mechanics, for the time) and introduced them to the largest number of gamers. Could we delve into the deep cuts of video game and gaming history? Absolutely, and I’d love to do so! However, for librarians building a circulating collection of games, the deep cuts aren’t necessary, at least not at first.

    It’s much like how sci-fi literature existed long before Ray Bradbury, fantasy literature existed long before Tolkien, and horror existed long before Stephen King, but if you’ll building a fiction collection highlighting those genres you want to start from those authors and branch out.

  3. In which case, do you intend to focus solely on computer games in your upcoming columns?

  4. M. Brandon Robbins says:

    Not at all. The first few entries are exclusively about video games simply because they focus on building a circulating collection, and I find it difficult to circulate board games (could you imagine making sure all the game pieces were returned?). However, I fully intend to review tabletop games alongside their digital offspring–in fact, once we wrap up our examination of the essentials, I fully intend for the first review to be of a tabletop game.

    Will we see lots of reviews for RPGs? If I can get a review copy (either through my own expense or from the publisher) of the material and get my gaming group together for a test run, then without a doubt we’ll be seeing tabletop RPGs.

    I also intend to pay special attention to indie and “under the radar” video games as well. All of this is to say: don’t worry. The reviews for LJ will be unique and help you discover lots of gaming material that doesn’t necessarily have a multi-million dollar advertising budget behind it and will fit in with your library’s needs and goals.