Yune's Reviews > Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Extra Lives by Tom Bissell
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's review
Mar 06, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, games

This is the answer to Roger Ebert's claim that video games can't be art.

I think this is an incomplete subtitle; I'd call this "Why Video Games Matter to Me [Tom Bissell]." This doesn't invalidate it in any way -- in fact, it makes for a more interesting read, intertwined with personal anecdotes as it is.

I've never been a huge gamer, particularly on the console, but I've, uh, dabbled and had a binge or two. (Oh, Halo...) I suspect that non-gamers who haven't felt the visceral urgency of gunning down that misbegotten alien son of a...nother alien before he swipes you down wouldn't really appreciate this book. (Long-suffering girlfriends, don't look to here to achieve understanding.) And, in fact, many players probably haven't pondered many of the questions that Bissell tackles, or would care to, because gaming is just something they do fun, not requiring any rigor of thought beyond figuring out which itmes to keep in your limited-capacity inventory.

But I found it entertaining and intelligent, a thoughtful reflection on whether the challenge brought about by mechanics (replenishing health, certain weapons being more effective against certain types of zombies) is antithetical to the progression of a narrative. Whether some games are morally bankrupt or in fact provide a lens through which to view choices of violence. Which games do present a compelling story in their own right, and how they achieved it.

Bissell excels at relating the experience of playing these games without a marketing angle. I didn't necessarily want to go out and buy these games so I could try them out myself, but I did become interested in them as crafted works: seeing what went into them design-wise and how the result affected Bissell as a player. This isn't a dry, academic work; it's written by someone who cares about his subject matter and believes it worthy of deeper inspection. And he's convinced me.

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