Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

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These opinions and thoughts are not always positive. In fact, Bissell sometimes seems to spend more time attacking video games than defending them. They have to think of themselves as shopkeepers of many possible meanings — some of which may be sick, nihilistic, and disturbing. Game designers will always have control over certain pivot points — they own the store, determine its hours, and stock its shelves — but once the gamer is inside, the designer cannot tell the gamer what to pursue or purchase.

Big ideas like this should interest all kinds of readers. Gamers — and everyone, really, but especially gamers, to whom a sense of history means The Top 5 Characters of All Time — can benefit from a massaging of their institutional memory. After all, the sequel to Fallout 3 , out this fall, is generating not anxiety but sweaty excitement. At times, Bissell seems to swap out ideal readers mid-thought. How much of this depends on having fond memories of Resident Evil, as Bissell and I do?

These will, in some cases, overlap and intensify, but Bissell and, based on the promotional materials, his publisher seems to be targeting everyone at once. But gamers will revere it.

Why Video Games Matter to Tom Bissell | GQ

Much better than an argument for video games as the new novel is an analysis of video games by Bissell who probably has a couple of killer novels of his own yet to write. I nevertheless believe that we are in a golden age of gaming and hope this book will allow future gamers a sense of connection to this glorious, frustrating time, whatever path games ultimately take and whatever cultural fate awaits them" page xiv. Videogames are fun—Bissell clearly thinks so. So why does the spritelike videogame character on the front cover seem to be angry? People who make videogames have feelings, too.

Cliff Bleszinski, who helped create Gears of War , has an intensely personal relationship with games and leaves intimate touches throughout his work. He was playing the tank-blasting Blaster Master when he found out his father had died. It resonated. CliffyB as he is known to the gaming community built what he calls a "going home" narrative into the second Gears. Turns out, the tanks in Bleszinski's game look a whole lot like those from Blaster Master. Actually, Bleszinski didn't consciously make them look that way, and only realized it when a fan pointed it out.

About that cocaine problem. Bissell spent a year in Tallinn, Estonia, where he doubled down on videogames and massive amounts of cocaine. Many of his pompous personal claims are later pulled down, his strict drug policies are found to be anything but, he has security issues needing workt thru, but never brings himself to such; always skirting that bush, but breaking off several branches during the circlings.

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A book less about games, and more about personal demons. Fails at both, but encourage a re-write focusing on the latter. Epilogue: Jacket design by Chip Kidd, basically the "it" man for 90's book designs. His work here is shamelessy careless to the point of insult, and herein I agree. The utter lack of care by such a talent speaks volume to the quality of the content, and seen in such light Jul 10, John Kelly rated it liked it.

It's a tough sell. The author has to make his book accessible enough for non-gamers, but still interesting enough for gamers of all levels. As a result, this book veers erratically between a genuinely entertaining 'experiential' account of the author's video gaming habits, and a boring, dime-a-dozen primer on video games. For example, the blow-by-blow recounting of the opening minutes of Resident Evil might be interesting to someone who has never played the game before, but as someone who has pl It's a tough sell.

For example, the blow-by-blow recounting of the opening minutes of Resident Evil might be interesting to someone who has never played the game before, but as someone who has played that game and especially that section of that game more times than he cares to admit, I found that there were very few actual insights in this chapter. I recently listened to an interview with the author on the Brainy Gamer podcast.

The pre-defined audience of this podcast allowed him to go into a lot of detail regarding his thoughts on the relationship between cocaine and GTA IV, and I was left wondering why he couldn't have included these thoughts in the actual book he was promoting? It would have made the book a lot more enjoyable. In the end, I feel as if the author failed to show us 'why video games matter', but rather told us why video games matter to him - and even then only weakly.

For a more engaging and coherent argument on why video games matter, check out Everything Bad is Good for You.

Tom Bissell: "Extra Lives" - Talks at Google

Aug 06, Bon Tom rated it it was amazing. Ya, bad choice of title, really bad. If you pay attention, you'll get the answer at one of the last pages, but majority of book wasn't about title at all. It's more chronology of author's experience with some of the games, philosophical take on each of them, and philosophy of gaming in general. And some of those "takes" are pretty deep, I must say. So if you're gamer, it must be good, right?

It is! Just forget the title. If you love videogames and reading about games and someone's gaming passion Ya, bad choice of title, really bad. If you love videogames and reading about games and someone's gaming passion that's bordeline pathologic just as "real" gamer's or "real" anybody's love for their preferred activity should be, this is book for you.

If you can afford distraction of forgotten, organic art of reading and not having 7th pass through GTA IV today, that is.

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Feb 20, Kathleen rated it really liked it Shelves: non-fiction. I think I come to this book from a much different direction than a lot of people: I'm not a gamer. Or rather, not any more. My days of gaming ended when I got married and had babies and I never ever got back into that scene in the same way, probably because I just didn't have time, and I enjoyed the human-interactive element of computers too much, chat rooms and discussion boards and the like. Also there's the whole book-reading obsession. I was never going to find the kind of time for games tha I think I come to this book from a much different direction than a lot of people: I'm not a gamer.

I was never going to find the kind of time for games that I have for books. So there's this whole evolution of gaming that sort of passed me by, and curiosity about what exactly was going on in those games kind of drew me to this book and I wasn't disappointed. The author talks about all the different console games he has obsessed over and spent huge chunks of his life on, and in doing so brings about a very fascinating discussion of the elements of those games and what works and doesn't work.

I really enjoyed the whole analysis of "story" and why it is so difficult to incorporate it well into a game, and which games attempt it and fail and which games have broken new ground in that area. He talks about the killing and the violence in a very matter-of-fact way which I guess if you've spent days and months killing people in-game you can get pretty matter-of-fact about it.

He pretty much bypasses discussing the Mario's and Donkey Kong games because those are mostly memorization; he discusses titles like Grand Theft Auto, and Left 4 Dead, and other various first person shooter games where you play a character that is more than an entity that hits bricks with their heads to get coins.

There's a lot of discussion about "agency"; the ability of the player to choose what happens next in a storyline as opposed to just "playing through the level" or from the beginning of the story to the end. I wish I didn't have to read the last part, about where he loses himself inside cocaine addiction for awhile. But in the end it totally makes sense because he admits that gaming, to him, was like cocaine and became inextricably tied up with cocaine, so that now when he replays the games they feel flat and lifeless because he isn't high.

The author also talks about his connections to certain game characters, especially Niko in Grand Theft Auto, and that to me was the most fascinating part of the book. He connected less with the heroic, world-saving characters than he did with Niko, a misfit out-of-his-element guy trying to get a leg up and mostly not doing it very well. After all, we can't imagine ourselves saving the world every day, but we sure can relate to making mistakes and haplessly stumbling through life.

Aug 22, Adman rated it did not like it. Jun 30, Elle G rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction. This was a fun read. Its like the conversations you have with your friends. You'll find yourself say 'Oh yeah! I remember that!


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He talks about the more common games that we gamers play so its easy to relate. Any games that he talks about that you haven't played makes you want to! We ended up going out and buying Fallout 3 right afterward.


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  5. It was really refreshing to hear someone appreciate the world of games, the place they take you. The only negative thing I have to say is that it gets This was a fun read. The only negative thing I have to say is that it gets a little repetitive; describing every game 'beautiful and amazing'. Aug 13, Rachel rated it did not like it. Despite the book's title, Tom Bissell spends a painful amount of time waxing obnoxiously verbose see what I did there? Bissell constantly wanders off on self-indulgent treks through his own experiences playing games, including a painfully narcissistic retelling of heroically saving his teammates at the last possible moment in a round of Left 4 Dead.

    These tales of gaming add nothing to his supposed "claim" that video games matter; they only recount moments that anyone who's played the game would recognize, while allowing himself to praise his own decisions and "analyze" them by comparing them to other games he's played. He also includes, at the beginning of the second chapter, a massive retelling of the first few minutes of the original Resident Evil. On my e-book copy, this retelling took up 23 of the chapter's 36 pages, with the rest mainly devoted to mocking its terrible dialogue.

    Content aside, this book was painful to get through.

    EXTRA LIVES: Why Video Games Matter

    The author's prose reeks of a thesaurus, and includes such gems as: "I have already quoted some of the game's dialogue, which at its least weird sounds as though it has been translated out of Japanese, into Swahili, back into Japanese, into the language of the Lunar Federation, back into Japanese, and finally into English. He also compares Silent Hill's poor voice acting to "autistic miscalculation" in choosing which words to stress in a sentence. I could go on, but these two examples alone should make my point. Finally, Bissell does a disservice to the medium as a whole by focusing on only two genres of games, one in particular: shooters are clearly his favorite, while platformers limp into second place with a single devoted chapter.

    Braid is the only non-shooter game to be given significant attention. A single chapter is devoted to an interview with Braid's creator, Jonathan Blow, but focuses more on his views of the gaming industry as a whole than the game itself. Another chapter is named Littlebigproblems, a clear play on the game LittleBigPlanet, but that game is only mentioned at the end of the chapter when Bissell laments how many awards it won. By focusing so singularly on shooters, he excludes the vast majority of the medium, ignoring or only briefly mentioning such genres as puzzle, RPG, strategy, simulation, MMO, adventure, fighting, stealth, music, and casual games.

    Many of his complaints, especially about supposedly lacking storytelling, figure differently into each genre, and it makes it seem like Bissell cherry-picked the specific games he examined to support his chief complaints. Overall, this book was terrible.