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Breakout: Pilgrim in the Microworld

(Boss Fight Books #22)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  83 ratings  ·  17 reviews
Just as the video game console market was about to crash into the New Mexico desert in 1983, professor and sociologist David Sudnow was unearthing the secrets of “eye, mind, and the essence of video skill” through an exploration of Atari’s Breakout, one of the earliest hits of the arcade world.

Originally released under the title Pilgrim in the Microworld, Sudnow’s groundbr
Paperback, New Edition, 224 pages
Published by Boss Fight Books (first published March 1983)
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Chris Salzman
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A deep analytic meditation on Sudnow's journey from never touching a videogame to mastering Breakout for the Atari. Every bit of the journey is told in excruciating detail as he takes time to reflect on everything (I mean everything) about the game. This might be the best writing on video games that's ever been produced.

There's so much I take for granted in games and getting a glimpse into it from the perspective of a pilgrim is fascinating.
Caleb Ross
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Breakout: Pilgrim in the Microworld by David Sudnow from Boss Fight Books book review

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I just finished reading Breakout: Pilgrim in the Microworld by David Sudnow, which was originally released in 1983 and has been reprinted by Boss Fight Books as their 22nd book, and I’ve got some thoughts.

Breakout: Pilgrim in the Microworld is basically a memoir of one man’s discovery of, and obsession with, t
May 23, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm glad to have read this seminal work. Mostly glad because it means I won't have to read it again. It was not a fun read, but somehow remains clout with me for its rave reviews and general renown for being the first book that looked at video games. In my personal opinion, this book is not worth reading at all. It is only my recognition of my own flaws that I consider myself unfit to judge it worthless, and so finished it anyway.

It is incredibly boring and hard to understand. Rereading a sectio
Ryan Stanton
This book is a chore to read in many places... but when it clicks, it’s a fascinating read that makes the many plodding sections worth it.

A deep dive into one man’s first experience with digital games, and their slow descent into obsession, Sudnow’s tale is one of the best phenomenological accounts of what it feels like to learn a game for the first time. His descriptions of the slow but persistent progression of his obsession, the frustrations that come with attempting to nail a particular cha
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Videogames as modern visual music making devices

Not sure I ever read an in depth analysis of the experience of playing a game (or even the video game playing experience as a whole) that goes as deep in the players thoughts and feelings as this book does. I really wish there was more long form video game writing like this, as the closer I can think of is videogame blog. Please point me more in that direction if you read this comment and know of it. Video game writing is usually way more about the
Travis Timmons
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a reader of phenomenology. It's the field in philosophy that I find most compelling -- human consciousness is bottomless stuff. This being said, _Pilgrim_ is phenomenology. A sort of living-breathing-moving version of the philosophy. And in some ways, far more insightful than the philosophical stuff written about phenomenology. This book does IT.

The writing is sometime clunky and counter-intuitive, but I find this normal deficiency to actually enhance the kind of work Sudnow is doing in the
Vsevolod Zubarev
Mar 26, 2020 rated it liked it
It's incredible that this book was published so long ago, back in 1983. It is about the original Breakout (1976) for the Atari 2600. The author obsessively plays the game and describes his exact moves, tactics, kinesthetic feelings, etc., all the while pondering about game design and related topics that are intrinsic to video games and relevant today, maybe even more than ever. ...more
Nov 13, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As far as I can tell, the correct publication date for this is 1983. Some online sources claim 1979, but that can't be as it mentions Missile Command for the Atari VCS which came out in 1981. ...more
Michael Erwin
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library
What an excellent, weird, absolute time capsule of a book. Somehow so of its time and yet decades ahead. Still haven't read any kind of video game analysis quite like it. ...more
Joe Henthorn
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'Something vital was being dispensed.'

I remember reading about this getting a really glowing recommendation a couple of years ago on Anna Anthropy's blog and desperately wanting to read it - but I couldn't find a cheap copy (it's a long, long time out of print), and inevitably forgot about it. But when I saw it pop up again on Brendan Keogh's blog the other month and realised it was being sold for a penny plus £2.99 shipping by one of those weird Amazon marketplace sellers, I snapped it up immed
Stacey Mason
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: game studies researchers, obsessive gamers, gamers who also happen to be musicians
Shelves: research
Jazz pianist David Sudnow didn't play video games until he went to retrieve his teenage son from an arcade in the early 80s, and he immediately dismissed them as a silly money-sink designed to keep teenagers occupied. When an Atari 2600 ruined a party of academics, however, he decided to give games another shot and try the Atari for himself. Thus began his decent into obsession.

Following in the style of Ways of the Hand, Sudnow's deeply detailed exploration of the phenomenology of playing jazz p
Jazz pianist Sudnow's super-analytic, hyper-intellectualized account of his addiction to beating the Atari 2600 game Breakout when it first came out (he even travels to Atari Inc headquarters to grill the game's programmers on how to best play). As a nostalgic Atari 2600 fan and someone with interest in in-depth analytic digs into games of yore (The Digital Antiquarian is probably my favorite blog), this seemed like it'd be right up my alley.

But Sudnow's blow-by-blow detailing of his minute vari
Neil David Sr. (or David Sudnow, as my copy stubbornly claims) describes in great, great detail his experience playing Breakout when it first came out on a home console. It's an extremely in-depth tale of his obsession with the game, from his trip to talk to Atari designers in person to his personal demand that he create the exact perfect playing sequence. It's of a reasonable amount of interest to those interested in game history, or game scholarship, as it's one of the earliest (and again, mos ...more
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
fucking awesome

to qualify that:

it's amazingly OCD, it's a thinly veiled fictional account about a grown man getting addicted to 'missile command' and 'breakout' on atari 2600 in 1982.

he has screenshots of strategies, combined with social and cultural criticism; he says of his first sight of arcade:

"something vital is being dispensed."

not 'good' by any 'literary' account - but it's a must-read for any geek.
Erik van Mechelen
Stumbling upon an interest, seeking mastery, and finding a world within worlds are Sudnow's high order bids in his epoch spent with Atari's "Breakout." Useful for philosophical introspection, applications to learning a craft, and reflections on the motivations of mankind and the behavior of individuals in a machine world. ...more
Mar 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading about other people's insanity. This guy became obsessed with Breakout for Atari, played it 8+ hours a day, took *meticulous* notes, and play by play accounts of individual games, then wrote a book about it. I mean, the amount of lunacy it built up in this man is staggering. ...more
Jun 17, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gamesindustry
Interesting tale of a man who explored the limits of consciousness and the video world... by playing Atari Breakout.
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