Insert quarter, press start! Today’s Stack Overflow is all about videogames–they’ve long since left behind their humble beginnings and are now a multi-billion dollar industry with opening weekends that leave movies in the dust. So it’s no wonder they inspire a lot of writing.
Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet by Chris Barton and Joey Spiotto
When geeks become parents, they naturally want to find ways to introduce their kids to their beloved hobbies, the earlier the better. And what better medium than that age-old standard, the ABC book?
Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! walks your kid through the alphabet with terms like Griefer, N00b, and Unlockable. Or, if you’re not a gamer but your kids are, this may serve as a glossary for you. There’s actually a short paragraph explaining each term, and the artwork is inspired by all sorts of videogames, from Mario to Minecraft to Temple Run. My two-year-old loves it, and calls it the “ABC book.”
Rated E for Everyone.
This one’s from last year, but I just got a copy because the paperback is coming out in July.
Pete Watson is obsessed with videogames: specifically, Brawl-a-thon 3000 XL. So when his parents are out at a company softball game on the game’s release day, he’s all set to bike to the store to buy a copy … except his mom borrowed some of his cash. Cue garage sale, where he sells his dad’s old CommandRoid console for twenty bucks. I mean, his dad never uses it, right?
Then things get a little weird. Turns out the CommandRoid is more important than Pete suspected. The book is told from Pete’s point of view, so the book has plenty of what I consider “middle grade boy humor,” for what that’s worth. Bonus: a little flip-book animation at the bottom of the pages.
Rated E for Everyone (well, middle graders and up).
Goldberg and Larsson’s book is an in-depth look at the creation of Minecraft and the man behind it, Markus “Notch” Persson. It’s a fascinating biography, whether you play the game or not. The book was originally published in 2013, but a new edition was just released that includes two new chapters including the sale of Mojang to Microsoft at the end of 2014.
The book is written for adults, and includes some discussion about Persson’s sister’s drug habit and his estranged relationship with his father, but otherwise much of the content is kid-friendly and it just might get your Minecraft-obsessed middle schooler to read something over the summer.
I’d rate it T for Teen with those caveats.
Jim Kelly has already written up a full review of Armada, so I won’t get into too many details, but it’s a fun book that fits on this list. I thought it was particularly interesting because sections of the book take place in Beaverton, Oregon, which is a not-insubstantial city outside of Portland rather than the po-dunk boonies that Cline makes it out to be. I mean, Nike is based there.
The book is a great mash-up of lots of videogame and sci-fi story tropes, and if you grew up in the ’80s then there’s a whole lot crammed into the book just for you. Sometimes it felt like a little too much, though, especially the frequent comments made by the main character that the events in the book seemed so much like a movie, or videogame or fiction. Those comments really highlighted the fact that I was reading fiction, and broke my suspension of disbelief every time it happened.
Still, I devoured the book and it was a heck of a ride. And I even learned something new: early in the book there’s a mention of Polybius, an urban legend about an arcade game that appeared briefly in Beaverton in the ’80s. I hadn’t heard of it, and assumed it was a part of the fiction that Cline made up, but then came across a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about the Polybius Conspiracy. (Unfortunately the project didn’t fund; I can only wonder how it would have fared if they’d waited until Armada is released, when Polybius would be fresh in everyone’s minds.)
With the content and language, I’d say Armada is rated somewhere between T for Teen and M for Mature–but children of the ’80s are going to get the most enjoyment out of it anyway. Armada will be published July 14.
I’m hooked on John Joseph Adams’ short story anthologies. I mentioned several of them in this end-of-the-world Stack Overflow, and here’s another one (also edited by Daniel H. Wilson of Robopocalypse fame.) This time, though, instead of apocalyptic visions (robot-driven or otherwise), it’s a collection of stories about videogames. Text-adventure games, first-person shooters, roguelikes, MMORPGs, old-school games like Oregon Trail, futuristic games with neural interfaces and retinal projection displays.
It’s a fantastic group of authors: Charles Yu, T. C. Boyle, Austin Grossman, Holly Black, Andy Weir, Hugh Howey, Charlie Jane Anders, Robin Wasserman … it’s a long list, and the stories are as various and diverse as videogames themselves. Cory Doctorow’s story, “Anda’s Game,” was the basis for a graphic novel, In Real Life (mentioned before in this Stack Overflow) and both the short story and graphic novel are excellent. Another story that stood out was “Please Continue” by Chris Kluwe, a former football punter who made waves last year with his outspoken opinions against Gamergate.
As with any anthology, some stories are stronger than others, and chances are you won’t love all of it, but if you like videogames and science fiction, you’ll find many stories here that will capture your imagination.
Definitely rated M for Mature for language and content. Press Start to Play will be published in August, and is available for pre-order now.
This one just came across my radar and I wanted to mention it, although it’s not due out until the end of August and I haven’t actually gotten to see it yet other than a few sample pages.
Sainsbury interviews the creators of 40 videogames, some from small studios and some from big blockbuster studios. It’s a big coffee table book from No Starch Press, and I’m looking forward to taking a look closer to its release.
While we’re talking about upcoming videogame-inspired fiction, I didn’t want to forget a couple of excellent older titles, too. YOU by Austin Grossman is the story about the rise of Black Arts, a fictional videogame company that rides the waves of changes throughout the industry from the late ’80s to the late ’90s. Although it is fiction, much of the portrayal of the videogame world is based on reality, and real-world references are woven in so well that you’ll forget Black Arts didn’t actually exist.
It’s a great book to get you pumped up about ’80s videogames while you’re waiting for Armada to be released. For more, check out the original review (and Q&A) that Jim Kelly and I wrote a couple years ago. (It was released in paperback last year.)
Rated M for Mature.
This one’s an old one, but one that I think is worth mentioning in any list of books about videogames. You can read my full review here.
In Extra Lives, Tom Bissell examines videogames by writing about his experiences with several titles: Mass Effect, Braid, Grand Theft Auto, and others. He digs into the topics of videogames as art, violence in games, how addicting games can be. Above all, the book is both insightful and well-written.
Rated M for Mature due to both the types of games he plays and frank descriptions of his own drug use while living in Las Vegas.
Disclosure: I received review copies or advance proofs of most of the books mentioned in this post.