This article is from the original batch of Video Game Librarian articles I wrote for Gaming Target between 2005 and 2007. It was originally written on July 20, 2005.
After two articles showing a library adding PS2 games to their collection it’s time to look at another of the library’s main functions. Books! Yes, that’s right. In this age of DVDs, CDs and video games, libraries everywhere still carry books. And some of them are even about video games. But there has never really been one single book that people look at and say “This is what you must read to get the best understanding of video games.”
In fact, go to the Electronic Gaming section at any Barnes and Noble and what will you see? Strategy Guides and their up-and-coming cousin, the Making of Art Book, as far as the eye can see. That’s what people think of when they hear the words “video game books”. And why not? A generation of gamers were raised on Jeff Rovin’s How To Win At Nintendo Games” series after all.
There’s no doubt that they’re real books. Clocking in at several hundred pages each with not a screenshot to be seen. Actually, they may have been the first video game books that most of us were exposed to that were more than just screenshot catalogs. Yes, they were strategy guides, but Rovin brought a personality to these books that most other strategy guides lacked. Even today you’ll find gamers that react fondly when they hear the name Jeff Rovin.
But books about games, gaming and gamers have moved beyond the simple strategy guide. This is by no means a complete list of every video game related book out there, but it’s a good place to start with some of the titles that I have seen that can have an effect on the way people think about gaming.
Killing Monsters is yet another tract about the effects of violence in the media on young impressionable minds. The difference is that the author, Gerard Jones, believes that media violence should be embraced as they help children and later teens, deal with new emotions and the real world. He also puts forth the completely off the wall assertion that children know the difference between fantasy and reality. The horror!
It is a good lesson for the parents of the world who see video games, television and comic books as items that will warp their sensitive little angels if they are not strictly controlled. Through interviews with teachers and students and stories about the adventures Jones had raising his own son, he shows that parents need to listen to their children help them understand what these new feelings are all about. He is also one of the few people that understands that if you give a boy anything (anything!), they can pretend it’s a gun. An author with true insight indeed.
When it comes to violence in video games, Henry Jenkins is one of the world’s experts. And he’s not a Jack Thompson self-appointed expert either. Jenkins is an MIT professor and the man that the ESA turns to whenever Jack Thompson decides to blow a gasket about something he doesn’t understand. Jenkins is able to speak eloquently about our hobby and rationally explain how it affects those around us. He has collected many of these thoughts along with Justine Cassell in a book titled From Barbie To Mortal Kombat that attempts to explain the differences in the sexes and how they game. It’s a bit older (the last reprint was released in 2000), but a lot of it still makes sense with today’s games.
For a more current look at the world of video games, there’s no better source than G4’s X-Play. And allow me this tangent to say that they are the only people on G4 you should be listening to. I question whether anyone at the channel even plays video games regularly. Anyway, last year The X-Play Crew put The X-Play Insider’s Guide To Gaming, a huge 480 page bible of reviews of the newest games and interviews with some of gaming’s most influential developers. The style of the book matches the style of the show perfectly. You’ll even hear the reviews in your mind read aloud in Adam Sessler’s unique vocal styling. Depending upon your feelings towards Mr. Sessler, this is either a gift or a curse.
If you want to move beyond reviews and commentaries on the violence debate there’s always Blue Wizard is About to Die by Seth “Fingers” Flynn Barkan. Fingers bills Blue Wizard as the first book of video game poetry and I think he might just be right. Many different styles are represented including prose poetry, couplets, haiku and maybe even a sonnet or two. Blue Wizard includes a references section in the back of the book so that in case you missed something you could find out what a peculiar turn of phrase was referring to. And any book that features poetry about obscure NES classics The Legend of Kage and Karnov (two of the greatest games ever!) is going to baffle a lot of people.
I know I said you couldn’t choose one book to that encompasses all of video gaming, but I think the closest might be Masters of Doom by David Kushner. A book that dotted nearly every gamer’s reading list in 2003, the subtitle alone should explain the appeal of Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. Those two guys are the wild eyed pioneers of id Software and the first person shooter movement. Their humble beginnings, the beginnings of id and finally, the creation of two of the biggest “names” in all of gaming: John Romero and John Carmack. No one had any idea how big the first person shooter would become and this is the story of its genesis. The genre has almost become synonymous with gaming and the story has been optioned by Showtime for a movie. After The Wizard, probably only the second video game movie actually about gamers.
Another look at the creation of one of video game’s magical moments is in Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and EnslavedYour Children. While it almost sounds like an attack on the Japanese giant, it’s actually a very thorough look at Nintendo’s rise from video game nobody in 1980 to video game juggernaut in 1993 (the date the book was published). While it is very outdated (a revised edition titled Game Over: Press Start to Continue was released in 1999, it tells a great story about Nintendo’s history and the golden age of video games. Anyone interested in video gaming’s roots would do well to track down a copy (I found mine at a library book sale for 50 cents).
Scanning back over this list I’m sure you notice the lack of fiction titles. I’m not really sure why that is, but fiction relating to games seems to be limited to “Expanded Universe” stuff for some of the more narrative heavy games. Probably the best example of this is the Halo trilogy of books that form the basis for the game’s backstory. The first of these is Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund. Fall of Reach is the first part of the Halo story and includes the beginnings of the SPARTAN program and humanity’s first meeting with The Covenant. It also tells how the Master Chief found his way to Halo.
>The series continues through two more books. Halo: The Flood by William Dietz, which tells the story of the events during the first Halo game and Halo: First Strike by Eric Nylund, which bridges the stories of Halo and Halo 2. While I have not read any of the Halo novels, I’m amazed at the number of people that tell me they’re no t just good video game adaptations, but fairly good sci-fi novels as well. Maybe that seems like a backhanded compliment, but these books look to be the perfect jumping off point for anyone interested in the deep storyline and wide open universe of Halo.
And with that, I think we’ve reached our circulation limit for the day. As I said, this is by no means a comprehensive video game library, but it’s a good place to start for anyone wanting to learn more about the world of gamers. I know there are a lot of other great books pertaining to gaming out there and if anyone wants to drop me a line at john AT warpzoned DOT com I’d be glad to listen to your suggestions. I know I’m falling a little behind as lots of people have told me good things about books from Steven Kent, Chris Kohler, and Brad King. So much reading to do, so little time.