Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The Beach


Posted July 14, 2010 - By Kevin Kelly

Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The Beach

Summer vacations will be tearing a lot of you away from your consoles, but that doesn't mean you have to leave the gaming experience behind. And I'm not talking about taking your iPhones, PSPs, and Nintendo DSes (DSi?) with you. I'm talking about a new and exciting experience, the printed word! 

There's nothing that says you can't learn a little while you're on vacation, so kill two birds with one stone and read about gaming. There are a ton of books about video games out there, and here are a few that I think are worth sticking in your beach bag. So while you work on your tan, you can study up on current games, read about old ones, or lose yourself in a virtual world.

Read on to check out the best video game beach books that you need to pack with you this summer.

Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The BeachExtra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

Tom Bissell's book doesn't just detail modern video games, it details his own personal obsession with them, and explores the shame he's felt for years over playing them. He goes into depth about the industry, the games themselves, and what they say both about the people who make them, and the gamers who play them. It might not completely cover your own personal shame, but it's refreshing to hear a journalist who might be in the same boat as you talking about the games you're playing.

You'll read about how he fell into the black hole of gaming, his own personal demons, and how GTAIV mirrors his own destructive tendencies. It's a gripping read, fun at times and revelatory at others. Well worth your time.


Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The BeachTwisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction by Nick Montfort

This book first came to my attention at PAX East earlier this year after I saw a cut of Jason Scott's wonderful documentary Get Lamp, which details the world of interactive fiction. I spoke with Jason after the film, and he recommended this book written by Nick Montfort, who was also part of the Get Lamp panel (and is featured in the film). If you have ever played text-only games like Zork or Deadline, then you'll enjoy this fascinating look at their history and development. 

And if you've never played one, then ... what the heck? Get out there and try one out. You can play Zork I, II, or III for free. Thankfully the internet didn't exist back when I was into these, or I probably never would have left the house at all.


Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The BeachThe Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent

The actual title for this game is The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon -- The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World, which is just a bit too lengthy for me. But, it's a very good look at the birth of video games, with particular attention given to Atari and what it did to the world. This isn't a pictorial history, but rather a written one, filled with fascinating stories - like the bar where Pong was invented. There's also a lot of sex, drugs, and scandal in here as well. 

While it's not that "ultimate," since it was published in 2001 and doesn't cover the current-gen video game systems, it's a truly eye-opening look at the history of beloved video games.



Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The Beach

Arcade Mania: The Turbo-charged World of Japan's Game Centers by Brian Ashcraft

America doesn't have a lock on the video game world by any means, and Ashcraft's look at the game centers in Japan that contrast the virtually dead arcade scene in the States. There are around 9,500 game centers in Japan with almost half a million machines inside, and is part of a booming industry. Ashcraft and contributor Jean Snow take a look at the culture of arcade gaming in Japan, the strange games, the history, and why it's so different than the scene over here.
This is a very enjoyable read, and the book is filled with a lot of photos for those of you who aren't super-fond of words.

For those of you who really aren't fond of words, I'd like to present Van Burnham's gorgeous Supercade. It's a loving pictorial history of the height of the arcade era, where these quarter-gobbling machines ate allowance from plenty of kids, including me. It hits a big nostalgia nerve, and will make you want to haul your MAME games out of whatever folder you've archived them in so you can give a few of these another play. 


The photos and capsule-length descriptions are offset by longer essays from other writers, and the entire package is a great page-turner for a lazy day.


Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The BeachThe Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten

Many of you have thought about getting into the world of video game development, so why not thinking about writing for video games? Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten have written video games like Dead to Rights and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and together they formed The Bureau of Film & Games. As game designers and writers, this book details how to integrate story with gameplay. while creating a compelling experience for gamers. As a look at both writing and game design, this book offers some great insights.

If you're thinking about working in the industry, this is a great read to help you decide what facet you'd like to focus on.


Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The BeachSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Because we needed one fiction book to round out your book bag, I'm offering up one of my favorite books. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is s sprawling story set against a world where the internet has gone virtual, and you interact with others, play games, search for information, and do business as an avatar inside of a wholly created, artificial world. Of course, something goes wrong in both the virtual and the real world, and it's up to the book's main character, Hiro Protagonist (yes, really) to figure out what's going on. 

There are samurai swords, mafia pizza deliverymen, killer viruses, and lots of computer hacking. If they ever turned this into a sandbox video game, this thing would clean up. Hear that, game developers? Read this on the beach this summer and get back to me. 

Summer Reading: Video Game Books For The Beach


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