It seems like getting young boys to read is an eternal struggle for book publishers. They’ve tried many gimmicks, including gamebooks like Choose Your Own Adventure, as well as creating books based on things boys like – sports, dinosaurs, movies, and TV shows. In the early 1990s, Seth Godin was talking to his 10-year old nephew and found that the boy didn’t read for pleasure – he played video games instead.

Godin was a book packager by trade, meaning he came up with ideas for books, found authors willing to write these ideas, and then he approached book publishers to see if they’d put up the money to get the books made. His job was not unlike a movie producer – more a project manager than the actual creative mind making the finished product.

So, taking a cue from his nephew, Godin thought he could put together a series of books based on popular video games that would appeal to boys. Godin started researching games that were played on the then-popular Nintendo Entertainment System and found a few candidates that he thought would make a good fit to be adapted to a book. At first he approached Nintendo to see if they’d back the books, but negotiations fell through at the last minute. Instead, Godin went directly to the game companies themselves, who were willing to license their games for the project.

However, the companies were too busy to actually help with the books. Godin wound up playing each of the games himself and, based on his experience, wrote 40-page guides for the authors to use to write the books. Talk about dedication!

Thanks to Godin’s passion, the project bore fruit as the Worlds of Power books series, published by Scholastic in the early 1990s.

As I was already in high school by the early-90s, I didn’t even know these books existed until about seven or eight years ago when a friend posted about them on Twitter. As luck would have it, not a week later I was at a Savers thrift store and found the Blaster Master book on the shelf for $1. Then, about another week later, I was at a Half-Price Books and found six more, also for $1 a piece. Without even trying, I wound up collecting almost the entire series of ten books. Since then, I’ve slowly purchased more of the series on eBay when the price is right, including my recent pickup of Mega Man 2. Here’s what I have so far…

I’m still missing Before Shadowgate and Bases Loaded II: Second Season. Unfortunately, the Worlds of Power books range in price on eBay from about $10 up to the triple-digits for some of the rarer titles…like Before Shadowgate. This might be a case where I’ll have to be patient and hope I get lucky at a used bookstore. I mean, it’s worked so far with this series…

The plots of the books are similar to the plots of the games, but do take some creative license, mainly in how the books handle violence. In books about ninja assassins, special operative soldiers, and a robot kid with a gun for a hand, there’s bound to be some violence. However, Scholastic, understandably, wanted the books to be toned down to be appropriate for kids. Yes, the kids were playing the games where all this violence occurs, but Scholastic also had a reputation to uphold, so you can’t blame them.

So, Godin and his authors often wrote around the violence that was inherent in several of the games. For example, instead of Blaster Master‘s mutated animal minibosses, like this crab boss…

the character in the book fought a holographic image of a crab that was being projected onto a formless blob. This way no animals were harmed in the storyline.

And the arsenal of guns and explosives that Solid Snake would acquire during Metal Gear were used to either pistol whip the bad guys or shoot the locks off of doors. In Bionic Commando, the hero was armed with “stun bullets” that would knock out enemy soldiers. I’m not sure how young video game fans reacted to these capitulations, but hopefully it didn’t ruin the experience for them.

Similarly, the book covers were based on the game’s box art, but there are a few things missing from many of them, mainly weapons. For example, here’s the Metal Gear game box and the Worlds of Power book cover side-by-side. As you can see, Solid Snake isn’t holding a pistol on the book, which just kind of makes for an odd cover, but it would still be recognizable by kids who played the game.

Mega Man 2 is also kind of odd with Mega Man not having a gun on the book cover and just sort of awkwardly holding out a fist towards the bad guys…

After Worlds of Power, Godin would go on to become one of the biggest names in internet marketing. Godin essentially invented the idea of “permission marketing”, which gives the target audience the ability to opt-in or opt-out of receiving advertisements. Think accepting cookies when you go to a website or signing up for the company’s email newsletter in exchange for 10% off your purchase. The guy literally changed how the world markets to people, but he got his start making video game books for boys who didn’t like to read. Talk about a wild journey!

For more about Worlds of Power, did a really cool interview with Godin back in 2006. Unfortunately, the link is only available on the Wayback Machine (which is a little slow and clunky to use), but if you want to check it out, here’s a link.

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