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Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  2,276 ratings  ·  384 reviews
Tom Bissell is a prizewinning writer who published three widely acclaimed books before the age of thirty-four. He is also an obsessive gamer who has spent untold hours in front of his various video game consoles, playing titles such as Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, BioShock, and Oblivion for, literally, days. If you are reading this flap copy, the same thing can probably be said ...more
ebook, 208 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by Vintage (first published 2010)
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The title of this book is Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. I normally wouldn’t begin a review with such a mundane sentence, but it is vital to understanding my reaction to the book. The eponymous question is never answered in this volume. The question appears to be an “excuse” for publishing the most self-indulgent essays I’ve read since some of my reviews on this site. At least, Bissell is honest about his bias against PC games. I can understand that. It’s very clear from the games that he ...more
I'm a gamer, plain and simple. And what I find funny and part of the reason why I wanted to read this book is that, unlike movies and books and music, I can very seldom find myself in a position to have a conversation about games without feeling like a child or just plain awkward. For the life of me, I really don't know why. I have played games which have entertained and moved me just as deeply as some movies, books, and music. So why are Video games still the bastard child of entertainment?

There’s this incomparable feeling I get when playing Halo, one that makes me feel like a part of something larger. It’s a sense of community, I think. All of these people working independently toward a common goal. We rack up kills, looking away from the battle zone only to check weapon inventories or monitor how much game time we’ve accumulated. Ten hours in a day is nothing.

The first time I spent twenty consecutive hours playing Halo, I felt a tremendous sense of pride. Okay, that’s not entire
Patrick Brown
Now that I have a kid, I don't have time for anything but work and him, and, if I'm lucky, a few hours with my wife after the kid goes to sleep. Most nights, after putting him to bed and making dinner and cleaning up, there's an hour. If I get up early enough, I have an hour to myself in the morning, which I usually use to exercise (Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? I don't know. But I'm hedging my bets.).

All of this is to say that I don't play video games anymore. The
Though I don’t play as often as I used to, I consider myself a gamer. I like the idea of someone unpacking the idea of why video games matter, and I think that topic would make for a good book. Unfortunately, Extra Lives is not that book. The problem is not that I necessarily disagree with Bissell’s opinions on whether or not games matter – the problem is that the book really isn’t about that topic at all.

The title is more than a little misleading. While Bissell doesn’t spend much (if any) time
I enjoyed reading this book despite the glaring "literariness" of the writing. Oh right, and the fact that women only enter this book as prostitutes (also "whores" -- as in, "Las Vegas was the world's whore, and whores do not change. Whores collapse.") and irritated girlfriends. Indeed, when it appears that women might actually participate in some way in the gaming world, Bissell cannot comprehend: "I noted the number of attractive young women wandering about the premises [of Ubisoft] and began ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John Kelly
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 ...more
An attempt at serious critique of video games. The author looks at a handful of the bigger titles, some industry personalities, and gets some things off his chest.

I take exception to the method in approaching critique of video games herein. The author treats video games as a genre vs. a medium and then breaking out into genres. Result is trying to get "hardcore" games to speak for the whole. Better would have been to discuss the medium then focus on genre and explain why these are important are
One of the most consistent criticisms I see in other negative reviews of this book is that Tom Bissell's tone is puzzlingly ambivalent. I have to unfortunately agree with this criticism, as after I finished the book the only take away I had from his argument was that games have (apparently) a myriad of structural problems that seem (to him) almost impossible to surmount. I find this really strange, as although I tend to favour arguments that don't neglect the weakspots/blindspots of their subjec ...more
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 ...more
Elle M.
This was a fun read. Its like the conversations you have with your friends. You'll find yourself say 'Oh yeah! I remember that!" often. 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. 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 ...more
in order to clarify to readers what sort of treatment they are in store for, this book deserves a more thematically and stylistically accurate title, perhaps along the lines of, "extra lives: shooters matteringly matter to me."

bissell never approaches a serious discussion of how or on what terms video games are relevant. he does not suggest or explore terms of engagement beyond the fairly common questions, 'how good is the story,' (whatever good is, which he doesn't address), 'how convincing are
I'll admit that I'm not a huge video game player. I play a couple of games on my computer, and played video games a lot as a kid and teenager, but it's been almost 20 years since I played many games and haven't spent much time playing anything since the PlayStation came out. So, if you're really a gamer, you might get more out of this book than I did.

With that said, I saw this author speak and picked up his book at the speaking engagement. He freely admitted that while the subtitle of his book w
It's possible one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was to learn that I am not alone. I am not the only person in their mid (okay, late) thirties that still loves video games, often loses sleep because of them, and may have even called in sick to work once to finish a "mission". One of the reasons I have such a fondness for the author Mary Roach (Stiff, Spook, Bonk) is her ability to write about non-fiction subjects, specifically science, and entertain and amuse the reader at the same t ...more
"Extra Lives: Why Video Games Suck"

At least, that's what this book should be called. Despite the book's title, Tom Bissell spends a painful amount of time waxing obnoxiously verbose (see what I did there?) about how much he hates video games. If I had to estimate, I'd say 80% of his discussion of video games is negative, with weak storytelling and dialogue being his go-to complaints for every shooter he touches.

Note that I said 80% of his discussion of video games, because a sizable chunk of t
Damn. I felt sort of dirty after reading this one. Tom Bissell is a really exceptional writer and I loved his work on Disaster Artist. I also love video game commentary. I was completely on board with this title and was hoping for a lot of passion and good storytelling, in a similar vein to the Indie Game movie maybe. Instead I was subjected mostly to a lot of boring prose detailing Bissell's experience playing first person shooter style games that I don't play. Where is the universality? And wh ...more
Here's the whole of my experience with video games: when I was growing up in the '90s and almost every other kid I knew was getting a Nintendo or a Sega or a PlayStation, my parents bought me a console called Socrates. Socrates was a robot who looked kind of like the one from Short Circuit, and all of the (preloaded, unexpandable) games in his system were designed to teach you about math and spelling and other such crunchy, educational things. This was the only gaming system I was ever allowed t ...more
Brook Bakay
Very interesting and surprisingly personal book that doesn't have answers so much as questions. I have long struggled with the same problem as Bissell, namely, "Are video games even a good thing". I have gone through many of the same addictive, self-destructive behaviours that he has. When I finish a video game, I usually have had an engrossing, good time, and I feel a sense of accomplishment, but I don't feel better for it.

He makes a fairly half hearted argument as to why video games matter - h
Sep 20, 2012 Abbe added it
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EDITORIAL REVIEW: Tom Bissell is a prizewinning writer who published three widely acclaimed books before the age of thirty-four. He is also an obsessive gamer who has spent untold hours in front of his various video game consoles, playing titles such as *Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, BioShock, *and* Oblivion* for, literally, days. If you are reading this flap copy, the same thing can probably be said of you, or of someone you know.Until recently, Bissell was somewhat reluctant to admit to his passion ...more
To review Tom Bissell's latest work, it seems one must start off with a little personal background, so as not to be dismissed out-of-hand as an outsider. Here, I can readily admit to my great fondness of games and all things gamey and thereby actually hope to increase (for once in life) your estimation of my worth as a book reviewer. To be more specific though, Bissell's 'research' does cover an awful lot of first-person shooter games, which he lumps together with many action/adventure games as ...more
Andrew Georgiadis
Vice City

Perhaps that is what your world becomes on the crack-cocaine that is video gaming. Tom Bissell figuratively (and literally) knows this is true. He presents a self-deprecating, semi-autobiographical history of recent video gaming and focuses on why, if not high art, video games are something else entirely. Or maybe they are the highest art.

Bissell has serious literary chops and a voluminous knowledge of contemporary film and prose (he is a creative writing major and literary critic, af
Extra Lives is essentially an argument that video games are a unique art form. It is mostly intended for people who don't play video games. Most of the games he covers are big releases that most people who actually play video games have played and probably agree with him on most of his sentiments. I think this set of games (Fallout 3, Mass Effect, Gears of War, Braid, etc) is covered because they are all games that would be good introductory material for someone getting into the medium. As a per ...more
Christopher Litsinger
So a book about video games by an author with an impressive resume sounded pretty interesting to me. And it even has a chapter called "Little Big Problems", which I assumed would be about Little Big Planet (by far my kids' favorite video game ever).
I should have known from this bit in the intro what I was getting into:
There are many fine books about the game industry, the theory of game design, and the history of games, overmuch discussion of which will not be found here. I did not write this bo
Courtney Johnston
I read Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter and Pippin Barr’s How to Play a Video Game in one long binge over Waitangi weekend. I realised at the end of the weekend that I had read the books in what would seem to be the wrong order - Bissell’s longer memoir first, Barr’s slim primer second - but I think this accident brought more depth to both.

Let’s start with autobiography. Barr uses autobiography as a framing device, taking us through his near life-long history of gaming, from pla
This book should really be renamed to "Extra Lives: Why I Like Video Games," because most of it is about the five or six games that Bissell really loves - the rest is about the other best-selling award-winning games he doesn't like because... well, because there weren't enough zombies or weren't set in some sort of post-apocalyptic or didn't stir up enough controversy in the real world.

I settled on two stars as a happy medium. I really wanted to give it three stars because the gaming industry is
This was a really really good book, on a subject I'm fascinated-repelled by.

Part of Bissell's accomplishment, to me, is how upfront he is about what he wants out of games-- an emotionally rich experience, one that is worth something in terms of how it casts his own life in a new light. I think this is pretty well understood as what most of us want, but I think if Bissell left it unsaid, as most people would, he'd have circles run around him by designers telling us the other interesting but peri
Have you ever had an intelligent conversation about video games? Out of all my friends there is only one who I can talk to in video games that goes beyond the basic “Did you beat (game title here) yet?”. When I say intelligent conversation I’m talking about a serious critique of a game. With this one friend I can tell him about that part in Mass Effect when I had to choose between Ashley and Kaidan. They were both pinned down by enemy forces but I could only get to one of them in time. The one I ...more
I was generally entertained by this exploration of one player's life in games and what they mean to him. I appreciate that the author tried to deconstruct the elements that make video games satisfying and successful, particularly as compared to films, novels, and other immersive fictional experiences. And it was fun going over key leaps and departures in game development, and how fun they were to play. But, I don't think this really explained the subtitle, "Why Video Games Matter." It hinted at ...more
I was torn on what score to give this. I enjoyed reading it, as I also spent a lot of time in my formative years (and continue to spend a lot of time now) playing video games. The author's description of new experiences in games reminded me of games in which I'd had similar feelings. As a collection of personal essays and reflections, I thought it was very good.

How well it addresses the title, as to Why Video Games Matter, I think it was somewhat weaker. The author does touch on critical aspect
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Tom Bissell (born 1974) is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
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“More than any other form of entertainment, video games tend to divide rooms into Us and Them. We are, in effect, admitting that we like to spend our time shooting monsters, and They are, not unreasonably, failing to find the value in that.” 5 likes
“...the video-game form is incompatible with traditional concepts of narrative progression. Stories are about time passing and narrative progression. Games are about challenge, which frustrates the passing of time and impedes narrative progression. The story force wants to go forward and the "friction force" of challenge tries to hold story back. This is the conflict at the heart of the narrative game, one that game designers have thus far imperfectly addressed by making story the reward of a successfully met challenge.” 3 likes
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