I don't know much about wine, but I sure like to pretend I do, and I bet I'm not alone. Who else here — of drinking age, that is — has bought a red wine to accompany dinner, because it "goes well with pasta"? How many times have you been poured a glass of wine to "taste" in a fancy restaurant, going through the whole rigmarole of smacking your lips together and saying "oh yes, lovely" even though it just tastes like wine? And, be honest now, do you do that thing where you try a new wine and then try to guess the random assortment of fruits on the label to show off in front of your friends? "Oh, yes, plum, see, I did mention stone fruits, didn't I, Janice?" Yeah, we're all the same, and we all have no idea what we're talking about.
But here's something I do know about: Video games. I've been doing this job for a while now, and I've played quite a few of them. I am no sommelier of digital media, mind you, but I'm definitely knowledgeable enough to be able to recommend you a hearty, robust RPG or a nice indie palate-cleanser, depending on your taste. But I would like to propose a change to the way we talk about games, at the risk that it's going to make me sound like the kind of person that won't shut up about wine.
There are some video games that are brilliant, but even more so when paired with a book, or a movie, or a TV show. There are many reasons: A book can tell you more about the historical setting; it can get you into the mood for the particular genre; or it can make you see the characters or the location in a new light. The right book can elevate the subject matter of a game far beyond the world on-screen, or help you understand its subject even better. And sometimes, it's just nice to fully immerse yourself in a sub-genre that you really enjoy.
With that in mind, I propose that we discuss our favourite "wine pairings" of games and other media. I'll go first!
Hades + The Iliad / The Song of Achilles
We'll start off easy. Hades, Supergiant's brilliant narrative roguelite, is heavily based on Ancient Greek myth. No myth in particular, of course, but a lovely smörgåsbord of bits from all over the place.
My instinctive recommendation would be The Iliad — the colossal war epic that describes the end of the Trojan war, but mostly the anger of Achilles following some prize-related beef with his commanding officer — but honestly, it's a bit weighty. There are entire chapters that just list all the boats that are present, or long passages describing shields. It's a brilliant story, but it's much better as something to listen to, rather than something to read, in my opinion.
(In fact, a bunch of Hades fans got together to read out The Iliad, with a foreword from Hades scribe Greg Kasavin. What serendipity.)
You might fare better with a more modern, novel-like approach to the Trojan war, which will give you a greater insight into Hades' treatment of Achilles and Patroclus, his lover/cousin depending on which scholars you believe (but the more interesting reading is the former, of course). Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles is the perfect companion to Hades, because it takes the same approach: Star-crossed lovers, torn apart by fate and fortune. Good luck getting through the gorgeous prose without sobbing, though.
Life Is Strange + Twin Peaks
If you're in the mood for some unnerving goings-on on the West Coast of the United States, then you really can't go wrong with this double-feature. Life Is Strange may not quite reach Lynchian heights of weird, but it takes more than just a light sprinkling of inspiration from the '90s TV drama.
Who killed Laura Palmer? What happened to Rachel Amber? The answer to the latter is a little more straightforward than the former, of course, but you'll have to journey through supernatural events, prophetic nightmares, and time-hopping manipulation to get there.
Heaven's Vault + Arrival
Alien civilisations and decoding language. Both are prominent plot threads in both Heaven's Vault and Arrival, but it's not just a surface-level similarity that they share: Both are also about communication, translation, and how imperfect it can be in creating a shared understanding between two factions.
Heaven's Vault is focused on the past, through history, archaeology, and anthropology; Arrival is more focused on the present and the future through actively trying to speak to an alien race. But both are concerned with what it means to communicate, and why we do it in the first place. They both come together in a shared appreciation and understanding of linguistics, and how it impacts philosophy.
One for language nerds, definitely.
Disco Elysium + Dungeons & Dragons: Player's Handbook
Non-fiction and reference books are still books, and I think this one is an excellent pairing. Disco Elysium is an incredibly complex take on RPGs that borrows heavily from the tabletop roleplaying world, most specifically the Planescape setting of Dungeons and Dragons.
Now, I could recommend a ton of books from D&D, but I think the easiest one to get into and find is probably the Player's Handbook, which will introduce you to the world, the races, the classes, and the general vibe of D&D. Understanding a game like Dungeons and Dragons — and how to play it well — will give you a great amount of insight (WIS) into how a game like Disco Elysium works.
The Legend of Zelda + Second Quest
Second Quest is a graphic novel by David Hellman and Tevis Thompson which seeks to explore "what it really means to have courage". It questions adventure, legend, and even gaming itself, and you will see not only Link and Zelda in its pages, but yourself, too.
The book comes from Hellman and Thompson's dissatisfaction with Zelda in the Wind Waker and Skyward Sword years, during which Nintendo veered away from the sense of discovery present in the early years, and towards more traditional, linear games. Hellman and Thompson instead imagined a world more like Zelda 1, where mysteries go unanswered, in a world that has already been saved. It's a mature, thoughtful and thought-provoking take on the Zelda mythos that asks the question: What happens after the credits roll?
Haven + Saga
This one's easy. A couple on the run from forces who want to tear them apart, with themes of queerness, found family, freedom, and love in the face of hate. Is that exploration game Haven, or is that sci-fi graphic novel Saga? Trick question! It's both!
Haven and Saga is an extremely good pairing, almost too good, like wine and chocolate. It feels like cheating. It helps that they're both gorgeous, too.
The Binding of Isaac + Midnight Mass
Not everyone is familiar with the themes of Catholic guilt and religious persecution that Edmund McMillen's gory dungeon-crawling roguelike The Binding of Isaac draws from. The very beginning of the game sees the protagonist's mother receiving a message from God to sacrifice her son as proof of her faith, and the rest of the game is all about Isaac trying to escape, confronting death, birth, and other heavily-religious themes based on McMillen's own familial experience.
The obvious pairing is The Bible, since, you know, that's where all the religion came from in this instance, but I reckon that Midnight Mass might get the horror across more efficiently. After all, The Binding of Isaac isn't about the source material, it's about the misappropriation of it to commit abuses, and the ways religion can be twisted into a weapon. Fun!
Metro 2033 + Roadside Picnic
Roadside Picnic is a 1972 Soviet Russian novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky which takes place in the aftermath of an extraterrestrial event which left behind several "Visitation Zones", in which strange and unexplained phenomena occur. Scavengers — known as stalkers — enter these zones to pilfer artifacts for profit. It is these stalkers that eventually inspired the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R., among many other films, books, and video games.
Metro 2033 is not based on Roadside Picnic. It's actually based on a different novel by a different Russian author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, called Metro 2033 — but since Metro 2033 (the book) was also influenced by Roadside Picnic, it's clear that they're all in the same family, at least. There's even a reference to Roadside Picnic in Metro 2033!
If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic, melancholic Russian stories that are all about trying to eke out an existence in a nearly-uninhabitable, miserable world plagued with scarcity and uncertainty, then, uh, have fun with this pairing!
Ace Attorney + Better Call Saul
Let's have a fun one to round this off, shall we? Everyone knows that Ace Attorney is not an accurate portrayal of the legal system, and that's part of the reason it's so fun. Cross-examining a parrot? Proving that an orca is innocent? Magic being admissible in court? Sure, why not! This is Phoenix Wright's baffling world, where your prosecutor is more likely to be the real murderer than your friend!
Better Call Saul, on the other hand, deals with the grimy, ineffective nature of the court in a town where all the crimes are either white-collar boring ones, or straight-up drug manufacture, smuggling, and cartel murders. You don't get these stories in Ace Attorney, and likewise, you'd never see Saul Goodman or Jimmy McGill trying to accuse a ghost of murder.
But sometimes it's fun to see the law from multiple angles. Death in Better Call Saul is a horrific thing that tears apart families; death in Ace Attorney doesn't even stop people from turning up to their job the next day, thanks to the Fey family's ability to channel spirits. But the one thing that Jimmy and Phoenix have in common is their ability to turn a case around in a split second, and it's a thrill to watch them both.
I may not know much about wine, other than the fact that it is very nice to drink a sangria in the sun, but I like to think that a good video game/book/movie/TV pairing is just as satisfying as a Rioja that goes really nicely with steak. I hope you've found some appealing pairings on this menu, too — and I'd love to know what your recommendations are in the comments!