If 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.