Welcome to another edition of gamrRead, a series of articles dedicated to discussion of books about the videogame industry and/or its culture (excluding strategy guides). This time we look at Mogworld, a work of fiction inspired by the MMORPG genre written by the wildly popular creator of Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee Croshaw. Mogworld provides a satirical look at the existential hell experienced by an undead minion who slowly starts to realize that being part of a game makes his life — or more aptly — his afterlife seem utterly meaningless.
Author: Yahtzee Croshaw
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Original Publication Year: 2010
Page Count: 413
Excerpt: I ran out into the empty plain, waving what was left of my arms. “COME BACK, YOU BASTARDS!!” I screamed. “You missed a spot! Look! OVER HERE! UNDEAD MINION RUNNING FREE! Get off!” By now, Meryl and the priest had grabbed me under my armpits and were running towards the valley exit. “I’M OVER HERE AND I’M BIG AND FAT AND JUICY AND NOT DELETED COME BACK AND DELETE ME YOU PRICKS DELETE ME DELETE ME DELETE ME…” (pg 67).
I have a confession to make. Despite being a videogame critic and avid recreational gamer I do not read or watch many videogame reviews (other than the excellent ones here at gamrReview, of course!). Fully aware of the irony of writing this, I find it hard to relate to most criticism on an intellectual or emotional level and think the whole system is utterly obsessed with assigning inflated review scores. The one shining exception is Yahtzee Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation reviews over at The Escapist. As many readers should know, Zero Punctuation is a series of video reviews featuring the voice of an angry, narcissistic, pessimistic, British gamer bluntly and crudely stating why X game of the week is or is not worth your time. Usually the latter.
And it is wonderful. I tune in every week to watch Yahtzee go against the mainstream tastes of most other critics and call out videogame publishers and developers alike for releasing bad games. Most refreshing of all is that he doesn’t assign scores to games for publishers to parade around on the box art and other promotional material. Naturally, with admiration also comes a fair dose of envy between a fellow critic so what better way to make myself feel big in comparison than by writing a review of Yahtzee’s first book, Mogworld, and declaring it a giant pile of literary feces? Well, I can’t give you that, because Mogworld is actually an enjoyable read, one that is easy to recommend to gamers and fans of high fantasy, albeit with a few reservations. You win again Yahtzee, you eloquent British bastard.
Mogworld tells the story of Jim, who is your ordinary magician in training away at college when he is killed during a surprise onslaught on his school. Jim spends the next sixty years dead only to be reawakened by a powerful sorcerer to serve as his undead minion. Revived as a rotting animated corpse, Jim realizes he was much happier in death and goes to various amusing lengths to off himself once more. However, his attempts fail as he is constantly reborn and realizes it’s not just him, because everyone in the world he inhabits keeps respawning after death. Jim makes the best out of life as an undead minion, killing heroes that attempt to penetrate his master’s fortress, until one day ghostly figures known as Deleters manage to permanently erase his master and his fellow minions from the world. Jim realizes these Deleters may be his only hope for a permanent death and embarks on an adventure to find them.
How I imagine Yahtzee look as he reads this review with great distate.
Simultaneous with Jim’s adventure is a subplot involving the development of a game called Mogworld, within which the main story takes place, and how its production is hampered by an arrogant and untrustworthy new programmer who slowly corrupts the game’s code. The way these two stories intersect is far fetched even for a videogame based fantasy novel such as this, but it does provide for an interesting creator/creation relationship to develop that resembles God’s interaction with Adam in the Bible.
I have never played a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game and, quite frankly, doubt I ever will. That being the case I suspect many humorous MMORPG related references found in Mogworld went right over my head. Nevertheless, I found myself mostly absorbed in the twisted narrative and laughing out loud on several occasions while reading during my morning commutes. Yahtzee’s descriptions and analogies are so thoroughly off the cuff you can’t help but marvel at his wit and daring.
The supporting characters standout and give life to what would otherwise be a dreadful, rather than cheerfully morbid tale. Jim is joined on his quest by fellow undead Meryl who stitches him back together when he falls apart and rather annoyingly plans to mount a resistance Jim wants no part of. Then there is an overzealous priest who switches between the game’s made up religions at his own convenience and preaches gospel non-stop. The priest’s frequent religious outbursts cross the line and the author’s harsh and condescending views of religion start to take their toll even to the most religion adverse readers. Last but not least is Mogworld’s fantastic gallery of villains, highlighted by inappropriately named Mr. Wonderful, who enjoys self-inflicting stab wounds and presumably long walks in the park.
Though Mogworld is narrated in the first person from Jim’s perspective, Yahtzee’s voice really comes through as an author. I mean that literally. After years of watching his videos I found it impossible to read Mogworld without the author’s distinct British drawl echoing in my head. At one point I almost decided to cut out the middle man and continue the story via the audio book. In terms of literary effectiveness, Yahtzee shows a great knowledge of medieval fantasy tradition, the hero’s journey, and so on, and seems to take great pleasure in subverting them in his characteristically deviant ways.
At 413 pages, Mogworld is a longer read than you expect it to be based on its size and unfortunately it cannot sustain the same momentum of laughs, action, and intrigue all the way to its conclusion. Overall, Mogworld is still a boon for the genre of videogame literature because it takes terminology familiar to gamers and transforms it into something greater. Mogworld is about life, loss, faith, rebirth, asshole co-workers, indestructible bunnies, and even videogame criticism. Cheekily, Yahtzee ends the book with a review of the finished game Mogworld that encapsulates all of the issues with videogame criticism that I brought up in my first paragraph. However, if there is one thing you absolutely should take away from Mogworld, it is that it is wrong to kill videogame minions, unless of course you’re after some valuable loot or need more XP.
About the Author:
Yahtzee Croshaw is perhaps best known as the mordantly amusing critic behind the wildly popular Zero Punctuation videogame review series for The Escapist. He is a native of the UK but now lives in Brisbane, Australia. His second book JAM is available now, also from Dark Horse Books.
If you have your own opinions you would like to share about Mogworld or wish to suggest a book for future entries, please do so in the comments section below. Happy reading, gamers!