**************************************In Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Tom Bissell explores how video game narrative structure differs from that of movies and literature. He broaches the subject of video games as art and discusses the obstacles they face in the artistic community (i.e. most game developers are NOT writers so their stories are often on the lame side). All throughout, Bissell discusses what video games mean to him and why he spends hours of his life playing them.
Ultimately, this book left me unsatisfied. It started out well but the bigger concepts were not followed up on. For instance, I wanted to know more about this “shock of the new” and why new things are so attractive in video games (nay, addictive when you first buy a game) (Bissell 26). Also, there were way too many spoilers! He mentions several times how these games takes 40 hours or more to finish the story-line but several times he reveals how certain scenes go down at critical game play moments! A spoiler alert would have been nice.
The beginning was intriguing, the middle boring and the end felt way off course as Bissell describes his addiction to cocaine. I suspect that he fell victim to this addiction after he began writing and needed to simply end the book so he could deal with real life. He has my sympathy and best wishes towards staying clean… but his personal addiction to drugs had little to do with this book’s initial subject: why video games matter.
I’m going to leave you with my favorite quotes from the text. Despite its many detractors, this book makes some interesting arguments that any gamer will appreciate. Non-gamers? I fear you’ll get lost in long game descriptions.
“…video games favor a form of storytelling that is, in many ways, completely unprecedented” (13).
“More than any other form of entertainment, video games tend to divide rooms into Us and Them. We are, in effect, admitting that we like to spend our time shooting monsters, and They are, not unreasonably, failing to find the value in that” (35).
“…no one is sure what purpose 'story' actually servers in video games” (36).
Unlike books or movies which largely control you, in video games… “You get control and are controlled” (39). I think this is a huge part of video games’ appeal.
“…modern game design is too complex and collaborative for any individual to feel propriety about his or her own ideas” (62). How different from writers who are highly territorial about their work!
“…the industry, which began as an engineering culture, transformed into a business, and now, like a bright millionaire turning to poetry, had confident but uncertain aspirations toward art” (87).
“So what have games given me? Experiences. Not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories” (182). I don’t doubt that he’s had a certain type of experience. But there is no replacement for real life adventures spent with real life, ever unpredictable, people. How can memories in real life be equal to those made with make-believe characters? This is a question for book fiends as well.
I love video games. I’ve clocked what might seem like an outrageous amount of time playing them – up to 12 hours a day on Christmas break when I got Oblivion. But while the world of Oblivion is incredible with its colors and people (truly it’s remarkable), there’s no replacement for the real Sun and Moon outside my window. We gamers (and book lovers!) must make time for people and the real world lest we lose touch with things that are important. Now, I can’t wait to get home to play some Call of Duty.
Publisher: Pantheon, 2010 Pages: 218 (183 to additional information)
Rating: 2.5 Stars Source: U of Iowa Libraries