On The Bookshelf: Extra Lives by Tom Bissell
One of the ways that I use social media is to share with friends and fellow travelers what books I have been reading and what I think of them, what they have caused me to think about, how they are shaping by world view. Lately however, probably because of Facebook’s ever evolving privacy functionality (or dis-functionality depending on the moment) the application I normally use to do that hasn’t been automatically creating neat, bite-sized, snippets that automatically publish to my wall and resists any attempt to convince it to do so. Actually, its resistance is approaching that of a five-year-old presented with green vegetables. So, I guess all that is left to do is leave those snippets here and hope they are of interest to a wider audience.
by Tom Bissell
To start off with, I am not a Gamer. I don’t own a game console. The last video games I played were on my PC and usually fell into one of two categories, combat flight simulators or Real-Time-Strategy games depicting Civil War battlefields and the guiding of Civilizations from the founding of their first city to their colonization of the stars. I also played some of the early text-based ancestors of RPGs like World of Warcraft. Even though I no longer play those games I still have a great interest in games and Gamer culture in general.
Extra Lives is in many ways a search for the redeeming value of the time and effort Tom Bissell has put into his own personal addiction to the games and the worlds they have created. He, at times, seeks to find their relevance as art, comparing them to novels, films or visual art. He explores how the stories they contain try to engage the player in order to make the experience of playing a visceral one. He delves deep into his own personal addictions to come to grips with how games have the ability to absorb so much of his, and other player’s lives. He relates to the characters of games by proxy and recognizes the “Extra Lives” that he has lived through them in the literal sense and how they have allowed him to escape from his own reality.
Throughout, he talks to the people who make the games in order to find out what makes games work, what shortcomings they seek to overcome as narrative and as entertainment, and how games have become such a force that defines many aspects of whole generations. This window into the personalities that create these worlds is interesting and informative and full of insight. I enjoyed the book, though the last chapter was my least favorite as it was the least objective and chronicled a particularly dark time in the author’s life. Extra Lives is an interesting peek behind the scenes of an industry that interests me for its pervasiveness and latent potential for the future.