4/5

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 time as educating her. Tom Bissell has this ability too. I caught myself laughing out loud and often, in complete mental harmony with his love/hate relationship with the video game.

Extra Lives reads like a collection of essays, each section focusing on a specific game or company. The author sticks with console games, mainly first-person shooters and other fighting games. I myself am strictly a PC gamer, playing RPG’s and adventures. This seemingly opposite attraction in no way detracted from my enjoyment, understanding and identification with so much Tom Bissell has to say. I actually think he may have piqued my interest in some areas I would never have looked at before. His emotionally wrought “Headshots” section discussing his first Resident Evil experience was hysterical! He painted such an accurate picture that I read over 10 pages with a big stupid, understanding grin on my face before I realized that a couple at another table were beginning to stare. The interviews and conversations with game designers were some of my favorite parts. There are people & companies out there who are not all just money-hungry capitalists churning out game after game with no thought or innovation. They have a real love of the video game and the technology and are constantly striving to expand the capabilities of games.

I’m not sure Extra Lives actually proves the statement that video games matter, but it brings up compelling discussion points on the video game as art, as a medium of story-telling and as an ubiquitous, even important, cultural staple. I found the discussions on narration and ludology especially interesting and enlightening. The video game has so many similarities to a narrative story or a film, but can’t do exactly what they do, and can do what they can’t (the author puts this much more eloquently). He examines the beauty of games and the experiences they can help to create along with their faults and short-comings.

“We’re going to change the world and entertain in a way that nothing else ever has before.” – Sir Peter Molyneux

Excerpts from a 2009 interview between game designer Sir Peter Molyneux and author Tom Bissell:

MOLYNEUX: I think the expression wheel worked because it allowed people to make their own stories up without it being totally encapsulated by what I wanted to do. And that is an amazing place for us to get to.

BISSELL: I can tell you that when I played Fable II I became a slutty lesbian bigamist who had tons of children, all of whom I abandoned.

MOLYNEUX: That’s fantastic!

Thoughts?