Three books that examine video games, seriously

“Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade” by Carly Kocurek is part history book, part critique of how video games became the domain of young men. (Everett Public Library image)

“Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade” by Carly Kocurek is part history book, part critique of how video games became the domain of young men. (Everett Public Library image)

By Richard, Everett Public Library staff

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pushing 50 and I play video games. There I said it. For those in a younger age cohort there is no shame in admitting and even championing the fact that they play. But for those of us who remember playing Galaga at the arcade when it first came out, there tends to be a strange self-imposed stigma of seeing video games as childish or a waste of time. Also, back in the day it was definitely NOT an activity you mentioned if you wanted to hang out with the cool kids. If you suffer from this ancient malady as well, you will be happy to learn that nowadays there are plenty of people who take video games seriously and even write about them. Here at the library we have a great collection of books that examine the history, meaning and impact of video games on society and the people who play them. Here are a few to get you started.

Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade by Carly Kocurek

Part history and part cultural critique, Coin-Operated Americans is the story of the rise and fall of the video game arcade phenomenon in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The author is particularly interested in how the early arcades and games came to be seen as the almost exclusive domain of young men despite ample evidence that girls and women participated as well. She leaves no cultural stone unturned, examining the games and films of the era that came to shape people’s perceptions of video games and those who played them. She makes a particularly convincing argument that these attitudes persist today not only in the realm of gaming but also in the larger digital culture created by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

This work is no paean to video games as the ‘next great thing’ that will usher in a shining future with benefits for all. Instead the author, an admitted video game addict, boldly tries to apply critical tools often reserved for traditional art forms (plot, characterization, dialog, meaning) to video games. The results tend to raise more questions than they answer, but they are stronger for it. While video games are visual, they aren’t passive like watching a film, with the player’s participation altering the outcome. While many video games rely on plot, characterization and dialogue, it is undeniably a fact that some games lack almost all three and are still very popular and fun to play. Despite there being no easy answers, Bissell isn’t afraid to wade into the fray and look at video games with a critical eye. After reading this book, you might as well.

Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline by Simon Parkin

As you can probably guess from the title, Parkin isn’t afraid to deal with the obsessive, and sometimes lethal, fascination people can have with video games. Starting with an investigation into how an individual literally played an online video game for so long that he died, the author then begins to ask questions that examine the impact games have on individuals and society as a whole: What is it about video games that can produce such obsessive fascination? Are virtual worlds more appealing than the real? If so, what does that say about the way ‘real life’ is structured? While examining these issues, the author intersperses his personal experiences with interviews with game designers who are trying to push the medium into new areas. The result is a work that is much more than a simple pro or con argument about video games and it is all the better for it.

Gamelife: A Memoir by Michael Clune

This affecting and intimate memoir chronicles the impact of video games on the author’s childhood and early young adulthood. Each of the seven chapters is devoted to a specific game Clune was obsessed with from the second grade to the eighth and how it affected his emotional development. Clune’s formative years were in the ’70s and ’80s so the games described are definitely old school and mostly text based. This work could have easily been swamped by nostalgia and become an overly technical explanation of the games he played. Instead it is a genuine examination of how the game experience helped the author navigate the treacherous waters of gym class hazing, cafeteria politics and all the other ‘joys’ of early adolescence. By focusing on his emotions and experiences, Clune gives his memoir a much broader appeal and relevance. No knowledge of how a Commodore 64 worked is necessary to enjoy this book.

If you want to continue to explore the topic, definitely check out the many other titles we have about video games and their impact. It is far from game over.

Be sure to visit the Everett Public Library blog for more reviews and news of all things happening at the library.

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