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Book Review – Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

extra livesIf you don’t have any history with video games, Extra Lives might not be for you, unless you want to try and understand why an intellectual like Tom Bissell spends most of his time playing games on the Xbox and PS3.

I use the word “intellectual” in what I consider its negative and positive sense:

Positive: someone curious who is actually trying to ask and answer questions

Negative: jargon heavy, in love with gigantic words and smart-sounding phrases that have simple equivalents that are just as accurate.

So, does he actually answer the question of “why video games matter?”

Not really. He answer the question of why they matter to him. And he constructs elaborate, if not entirely persuasive, arguments about many things that video games offer that higher art forms like film and books do not.

But he also remarks constantly on how much time he is wasting. He is almost apologetic, but if these games actually matter, what is there to apologize for?

Ultimately, just like a critic cannot make someone like a book they hate, Bissell can’t make you care about a video game.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book immensely. However, I enjoy reading criticism, so keep that in mind before you decide you’re going to love this book. In any case, seeing a book devoted to analytic criticism of games like Bioshock or Left 4 Dead or Far Cry 2 was such a novelty that I had to pick it up.

Bissell and I are also roughly the same age, so his memories of specific games coming out coincide with my own. There is a nostalgia here that I could get into which will be missing for anyone without equivalent experience. Reading the book reminded me of conversations I’ve had with friends about SNES games: “Do you remember when X or Y came out? Do you remember when you would play all night and then half the next day?”

If you don’t have those memories, I have no idea how you might react to the book.

But if you are, or have ever been, a gamer, I think Extra Lives is worth a try.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • cinderkeys March 15, 2011, 3:12 am

    Apologies: this is unrelated to your post. That said …

    I’ve tagged you in a meme. The challenge is to tell your origin story. Every superhero has an origin story; why not the rest of us?

    Every once in a while, I remember your dad’s observation that to succeed, you need to go through life as if you’re wearing a cape. So you’ve probably thought this one through. 🙂

    If you’d like to participate, see details here: http://cinderbridge.blogspot.com/2011/03/origin-stories.html

  • Piers McCarney March 15, 2011, 5:07 am

    I’ll check this book out, ifit becomes available at my local library. Unfortunately, as a niche book, it probably won’t even bepunlished in Australia.
    I have an odd relationship with videogames these days, because Ihave a great fondness for them but no time which I don’t feel I can justify playing them. I am constantly asked by workmates, “Why don’t you try World of Warcraft?” My response is always, “Because I’ve been addicted to videogames before, I love my wife and child and I’d like to keep them in my life, and I recognise WoW as the gamer crack that it is.”

    Yet I keep Kotaku Australia on RSS and got enraged when the release of the new Mortal Kombat was banned in Australia. Funny how a adolescent obsession can create such a lasting association. If I actually play for more than an hour or so these days, I feel like crap from the lack of movement.

  • Iain D March 24, 2011, 6:35 am

    I’ve just started reading “Reality is Broken” which also talks about games, but focuses more on how we can use game mechanics (like engaging people and keeping them happy) to improve lives in real life. I’m only three chapters in, but it’s good so far.
    It’s less philisophical, more practical.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2011, 9:54 am

      Iain, I just requested it at the library. thanks.