Review of Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives

[Christian Science Monitor]

In the Christian Science Monitor, I’ve got a review of Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives: Why Videogames Matter. This book has attracted a lot of reviews—most of them, like mine, very positive—but I haven’t seen anyone point out that, in the book itself, Bissell actually writes about “why video games matter—and why they don’t matter more.” That subtlety might not make for a marketing-friendly subtitle, but it does make for an intelligent analysis of videogames. If the subject interests you, I’d also recommend Jason Fagone’s Esquire profile of an indie gamer. It’s one of my favorite pieces of magazine writing.

Another thing most reviews have overlooked is Extra Lives‘ appendix, which includes a long aside on Metal Gear Solid 4 and a longer interview with Peter Molyneux. Bissell asks Molyneux, who’s something of an eminence grise in the game design world, if he agrees that videogames have gone from “petroglyphic rock art to the Sistine Chapel in twenty years.” Molyneux responds, beautifully and affirmatively:

Pretty much everything we’ve done, we’ve invented. There wasn’t this technology pool that we pulled it out of. Ten, fifteen years ago, you couldn’t walk into a bookshop and learn how to do it. There weren’t any books on this stuff. They did not exist. Painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? No. We had to invent architecture first. We had to quarry the stones. We had to invent the paint.


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