5 Minutes, 5 Novels, 5 Fictional Death Games

Storytelling, at its core, is centered around conflict. It’s about characters that have to confront and resolve internal and external challenges to achieve their goals. They, by the end of the story, grow into someone new, being forever changed by what they experienced. And sometimes that change is having to cut off your foot to escape this dingy bathroom before the other guy does.

You don’t need a degree in literature to understand that fiction around death has always been fascinating. ‘Death games’ is a specific flavor of horror (and sometimes dystopian, so, technically, science fiction as well) where the character(s) need to follow the rules of a game created by a mastermind, with “winning” being the privilege to walk away alive. You’re probably already familiar with the genre: The Hunger Games, Squid Game, Danganronpa, Zero Escape, Heavy Rain, Saw.

One of the most difficult aspects of horror, however, is that what is terrifying is different for every person. A visual medium such as film, tv, or video games show you the scary things, but non-visual mediums such as literature allow your brain to come up with the scariest thing possible. You’re forced to visualize what’s happening, you can see the thoughts and sensations of the point of view characters; the extra work can leave a long-lasting impression. You can’t hide under the blanket during the scary parts.

Before you is a list of 5 death game novels; they are more akin to Saw, Danganronpa, or Zero Escape than “what if reality tv? But evil” such as The Hunger Games or some of “Richard Bachman”’s works. Will you find one that inspires you to continue reading? Or will you leave me on read? You have 300 seconds. The choice is yours.

(Actually, you have as much time as you want. And this blog doesn’t have read receipts. Just enjoy this post!)

1: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

What if Zero Escape was in space? And had lesbians and necromancers and swords? A bunch of characters are locked in a building and must complete puzzle rooms to acquire keys to get to the other rooms, also there is a murderer among us. The reason for the death game is to learn how to become a Lyctor, a powerful, immortal necromancer that serves the space emperor. There’s plenty of death in this death game!

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

A group of high school students get ready for a field trip but awaken in a classroom on an island, where their teacher tells them they’ve all been chosen to take place in this killing game. Bomb collars force them to follow the rules: no entry in forbidden zones, no banding together, a killing must happen every 24 hours or everyone dies. It’s been adapted into manga and films and is a clear inspiration for many works, from Danganronpa to Hunger games to the whole “battle royale” genre of games, such as PUBG and Fortnite.

3: Eeny Meeny by MJ Alridge

Two people are kidnapped and locked in a room. The only way out? Kill the other person. A lone detective searches for answers. Why are these seemingly random people falling into these situations? Who is the mastermind and what are the connections?

4: In the Dark by Richard Laymon

The new librarian in town receives a letter with money and a puzzle, which leads to more letters. The Master of Games drives her to complete tasks with higher stakes and higher danger. This is the only story in this list that doesn’t have the main character trapped in a location where the game takes place, but the mastermind makes it clear that quitting isn’t an option.

5: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The best and brightest of Wall Street get to do a nice, fun team-building exercise: an escape room! What could possibly go wrong? I’m sure you can see where this is going. This story is pretty Saw-esque, as the characters are put into this death game because of the horrible things that they’ve done. The final puzzle: who will kill to walk away alive?

Comments are closed.