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This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities (edition 2008)

by Jim Rossignol

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Despite being interested in gaming and in travel literature, I found this book to be very tough to read. The author has a style that seems to veer from hyper cheerleading to dry analysis with little to bridge the gap. I appreciated the enthusiasm but was put off by the stale and sometimes caricatured images of gamers and other cultures the author used. ( )
  alexezell | Aug 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Got this book through Early Reviewers over two years ago. Jim Rossignol is a games journalist who uses some of his physical travels as a narrative framework to reflect on his virtual explorations. I picked out the book on the Early Reviewers list because of my interest in media geographies, but also as a media studies grad student who hasn't read very much about digital gaming and has a slight aversion to gaming culture. Rossignol doesn't really follow through on the conceit "Travels in Three Cities," especially in the second section, on Seoul, which is poorly researched and based on a lot of vaguely digital Orientalist observations -- and half of the section has nothing to do with Seoul or East Asian gaming cultures at all. Also, in championing gaming, Rossignol is way too celebratory of all the ways in which gamers can and could unconsciously help corporations and researchers discover things about human behavior (along the lines of crowdsourcing). There are media scholars who would see this as exploiting gamers' unpaid digital labor, and I'd tend to agree with them. And finally, Rossignol's writing is kind of repetitive (though maybe the parts where he restates the same points in a single paragraph got edited out in the final edition) and there are long stretches of geeky navel-gazing that failed to hold my attention as a non-gamer. Still, some parts are engaging and I learned a little. ( )
  teststrip | Dec 7, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Interesting concept, but the writing is a little bit dry. Didn't hold my attention - it took me several tries to get through the whole book. All in all, it was somewhat enjoyable, but I don't know that I'll be re-reading it any time soon. ( )
  nevermore17 | Sep 7, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The title of this book, This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities, is both apt and deceiving. While there is some traveling going on, and there are three specific cities spoken of, mostly this book is about video games and their culture. While I was expecting a more travel based narrative, Rossignol's commentary and experiences in the gaming world turned out to be quite interesting.

The essays within this book represent the author's own ambivalence feeling about the gaming. Not about the value of video games, because Rossignol is quite sure that video games are valuable, but as to what form that value is meant to take. One the one hand, he feels that games serve a vital purpose of being entertaining, and that the dispelling of boredom alone is valuable enough. On the other hand, he equally excited about the ways that games can be more.

In terms of physical travel, he takes us to two cities (beyond his home in London, which is the third city). In Seoul, South Korea, we are introduced a unique bubble of gaming culture, in which social interaction takes the place of vivid graphics in terms of importance. In Reykjavik, Iceland, he attends a conference for a game called EVE Online, in which a complex form or freedom and free reign is built into the design itself, so that in many ways users are the co-creators of the game.

Whether he was talking about the cities he's visiting or the gaming culture he loves, Rossignol kept me interested. While I would definitely recommend this book to those interested in games and gamming, I would hesitate to suggest it to those interested in a traveling experience, as I think they would be put off by the mixed focus of the book. ( )
  andreablythe | Feb 25, 2010 |
I read this on the heels of finishing A Theory of Fun by Raph Koster. Both books provide several well supported points on the benefits of gaming. As a teacher and 38 year old gamer, I feel a need to defend gaming or more accurately I'm interested in the educational benefits of gaming and am always looking for support. This Gaming Life was a good read - quick, lots of leads on new games to follow-up on, and lots of references to current research. But, definitely read A Theory of Fun! ( )
  techszewski | Jan 10, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This one really livened up a boring, early-early-morning desk shift, two days in a row. This book didn't arrive in my mail until *months* after I requested it, and I admit I resisted reading for yet a further period of time because of my own stupid error. When I requested a review copy, I thought it was about tabletop gaming, something many of my friends love, and I was interested in learning more about the subject. I was therefore a little bit dispirited when I found the book to be about video gaming, something I engage in very, very infrequently, and haven't had any significant interest in since I was about 12. Again, I've got friends who love video games, but I figured any examination of the topic would be more about the trends of development and marketing than any sort of social study. Boy, was I wrong.

Although I had to just sort of nod my way through Rossignol's initial anecdotes of sabotaging his job to take up gaming journalism, once he got into actually examining the culture I was hooked. The section on London was probably the most pedestrian, yet necessary to offer some comparisons with the more unexpected gaming cultures of both Reykjavik and (especially) Seoul. Since I did, as an early teen, dabble with text-based MMORGs, I was really interested to read about their development into full-on graphical communities, and I found the development of "alternative" gaming - such as gaming designed to educate or propagandize - really, really interesting. I completely sped through the book.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was how, as a journalist, Rossignol asks some questions about our social development into gaming communities, without either answering some of those questions or even proposing theories. I got the definite impression he didn't *want* to answer some of those questions, because they would work against his own belief that giving your life over to gaming is completely natural and worthwhile. (And I'm speaking mostly of his own choices, here; he never confronts the idea that allowing his gaming habit to ruin his stable job is an incredibly childish thing to do.) As a result, the book - while a fascinating social snapshot - is significantly one-sided. Overall, however, I found it a quick and pleasantly surprising read, if demanding of a little more realistic contemplation than the author was willing to give. ( )
  saroz | Jan 7, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Great idea, good points, mediocre execution. I never actually managed to finish this book, not because it was bad, but rather because I just found it . . . boring? Dry? I plan to try again one of these days, since I liked the idea well enough, but it just didn't capture my interest. My reaction may have been affected by the extreme delay in delivery, FWIW. When I try it again, if my opinion changes, I will adjust accordingly. ( )
  Kplatypus | Nov 18, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I am a relatively casual gamer but I am very glad I read this book. I found it to be a compelling mix of memoir, gaming culture and tech, and intellectual exposition. The author demonstrates an entertaining knowledge of international gaming. Informative yet friendly tone. Excellent illustrative examples from author's personal experience and from other research. Well reasoned arguments, good survey of other viewpoints. A defense of gaming. Fair and convincing. Productive treatise on boredom and gaming. ( )
1 vote the_blue_danube | Nov 8, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This Gaming Life provides insight into the lives of gamers as well as the history of gaming around the world. Like all books about subcultures worth reading, it is actually a book about humanity. Recommended. ( )
  undeadgoat | Oct 2, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I started reading, but it was difficult to get into the story since I was distracted by packing to move. (To bad it was only to the next town over, not real travel like this book.) And now, the book is lost or in a poorly marked box. When I come across it I will post a proper book review.
  akrissy | Sep 2, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As a high school teacher in an inner city school, I requested this book from early reviewers because I felt my students might be interested in it and even though I am a math teacher, I will do anything to encourage them to read. Unfortunately, the reading level proved higher/ less engaging than was acceptable. This is definitely a niche book and one that I do not recommend unless you are positive it will interest you.
  lis.lueninghoener | Jul 13, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I've always been fascinated by games, despite not being much of a current generation gamer - I'm great at puzzle games, and 2D arcade titles, but I've always been more likely to bury my nose in a book than to stare rapt into the screen of a console or PC game.

I do love reading about games, especially given my fiance's love of them as a form. So when this arrived, I planned to read it and pass it along to him. I found I liked it enough to keep. Rossignol captures the scope of the games, and more importantly, the gamers of the post-Quake generation with skill and humor.

His first person journalism occasionally digresses, but never to the point of boredom, making this a nice title for those readers with casual but not overt familiarity with the culture he references. Gaming Widows and Widowers should get a kick out of this inside look into the gaming lifestyle. ( )
  ginskye | Jul 9, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was the first book I ever got as an Early Reviewer copy from LibraryThing. I requested it because although it is about specifically online computer games (Evercrack, WOW, etc.), I thought it would be interesting to see what it had to say about the community of gamers (which I've been, of course, observing as it moves from tabletop to the online world).

I think I had expected the book to read more quickly, when I requested it. But it was dryer than I thought, so although it raised interesting concepts, I still took a long time to plough through it, putting it down and picking it up again several times.

Basically, the author lost his job due to gaming too much, and this turned out to be the chance of a lifetime for him. He landed a job at a magazine working on reviewing games, and writing about games. What used to be a hobby became his life (a jobby?). And he started traveling and looking at how the gaming culture was different all over the world.

I did find some of the parallels I was looking for. When he speaks of the collective simulation games (like Second Life), he talks about things which seem familiar from doing RPGs on the journals (or in email before that). And gamers are gamers, and culture is culture, and most importantly, humans are still, well, human, with all the foibles that implies. We care about things, and when we do care about them deeply, we are affected by their outcome.

Was this book good? I'm not sure I'm qualified to say that. It jumped around at times, and made me think more "thesis" than "book" which bugged me a bit. And there were things it said that I disagreed with (or disagreed with the idea of saying that they were "good"). But it was intriguing, and interesting, and I wish I had a better memory so that I could quote some of it.
  tryslora | Jul 9, 2009 |
Computer gaming is ready for a great study of the sociology, business aspects, and cultural impact of the medium. This book isn't that study.

Rossignol veers between a travelogue, a memoir, and a defensive polemic in his treatment. He would have perhaps been better served had he decided exactly which type of text he wanted to write. ( )
  Wova4 | Jan 30, 2009 |
It seems that many people who got an ARC did not think as highly of the book as I. I genuinely enjoyed this book and felt a definite connection to the subject at hand and the ways in which it was spoken about.

Though the audience of the book is meant to be those not necessarily initiated into the lifestyles Rossignol talks about, maybe there is simply a barrier to understanding in the experience. For me it was a 5 star book, but as the rest of the reviews show, it is certainly not for everyone. ( )
  tyroeternal | Jan 1, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Rossignol lost his job as a journalist due to his disinterest and basically played online games full time for a few years—this book details his experiences, talks about the people he’s met doing this, and goes into the big business of online gaming a bit as well. He talks about some of the more popular games out there, the history and rapid evolution of the whole gaming culture, too. Unfortunately, the book isn’t very readable in my opinion. The information is too scattered and there isn’t really a cohesive story or theme to it, and there is quite a lot of repetition as well—saying the same things in several different ways in later chapters. I myself am a novice gamer when I can be, so I was hoping for more than was there. I admit that I skimmed the last few chapters and this wouldn’t be a book I’d recommend to either the general public nor to gamers. ( )
1 vote Spuddie | Oct 3, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was all set not to like Jim Rossignol. When someone opens a book with a description of how they lost their job because they spent all their time playing Quake instead, it doesn't quite win my sympathy or admiration. Rossignol was lucky, though; through his connections in the gaming world, he eventually landed a job working for a videogame magazine and writing about his travels in the world of gaming.

Out of this came this book, a "tour guide" of three different gaming communities. The cities he travels to are Seoul, London, and Reyjkavik, but the only time his actual location really matters is in Seoul, where gaming culture is like nothing US or Europe has ever seen. What's more important are the games. Rossignol explores the world of people who mod games like Quake, in effect creating entirely new games based off of the platform of the original. He tries to describe the density and intrigue of EVE Online, and the politics of this and other online, multiplayer games.

Those who are interested in the shifting nature of videogames, of the ideas behind player-driven games, and the weird politics of online gaming, will enjoy this book. However, if you have already done any in-depth reading in the field, you probably will not find anything here that you haven't already run across. ( )
  Crowyhead | Sep 25, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I like videogames a lot, but this book just hasn't held my attention. He has interesting ideas, so I'll keep picking it back up and will (hopefully) beat the novel at some point. ( )
1 vote infiniteletters | Sep 23, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really enjoyed this book for the window it opened into the online gaming world - something I've read a bit about but never experienced first-hand. (For this reason, the appendix of games at the back was much appreciated.)
Rossignol's descriptions of gaming culture in different cities and his constant debate about whether games contribute 'more' to society rather than only being ways to stave off boredom, are compelling. I like the fact that he never really gives a definitive answer to the 'what games are good for' question (or even the 'does it matter whether games are good for anything more than staving off boredom' question, for that matter) but simply provides different arguments based on his own experience and conversations with others. I had read Allyson Beatrice's book 'Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby' (about her experiences as a member of the Buffy and Angle fan forum communities) not long before reading This Gaming Life, and one thing that jumped out at me were the similarities in both books regarding the benefits provided by online gaming/ fan forums: building social ties across geographic distance, developing skills that translate into the 'real world', and of course the all-important saving oneself from boredom/loneliness. ( )
  Silver | Sep 22, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Read more at Grasping for the Wind

The thesis of Jim Rossignol's This Gaming Life boils down to one sentence, "games are an antidote to boredom, and excellent cure for a seriously debilitating malaise." (p.29) Rossignol then goes to undermine this very thesis by pointing out all the ways that games can change our lives for the better.

The book is broken into three major sections, cordoned off by the names of three major cities in the gaming world, "London", :"Seoul", "Reykjavik", the final and fourth being a conclusion titled simply "Home". Rossignol uses each section to explore some aspect of gaming culture; things that are unique to or began in these areas, but that are spreading elsewhere in small trickles.

In the section titled "London", Rossignol explores how games self-propagate, using a personal example as the primary story. Rossignol lost a job as a journalist on a financial newspaper, because he was obsessed with the video game Quake. But through some creativity and a stroke of luck, he was able to turn this obsession into a job writing for Wired, the BBC, and PC Gamer among other publications. He also explores how gamers have become game designers, turning their passion into a career.

The second section, "Seoul", looks at the unique gaming culture of South Korea, where gamers gather together, much like we do at Starbucks in the Western world, but instead of talking, they play video games. These gaming "baangs" as they are called, are communities, entire social groups centered on games. But not in a geeky way. Apparently the entire country sees gaming as a professional sport, and the games are televised and sponsors pay for gamers to wear their logos, much like in NASCAR. Starcraft has become the number one most watched sport in S. Korea, strange as it may seem. This is an interesting and unique type of gaming, and this section is worthwhile to read just for its unusual nature.

The final key section, "Reykjavik" moves from the social communities that require physical proximity, to the virtual communities produced by video games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft. Rossignol explores how games played over the Internet in real time are creating entire communities, allowing people to add to them through MODS or simple creativity, are creating communities outside of the game itself.

All if this ends up being very fascinating, and as a book about gaming culture, This Gaming Life is excellent. But as far as supporting his original thesis, that games are good simply because they alleviate boredom, the book falls apart. All of the good things that Rossignol points out are usually products of the game, but are results outside of the game itself, even when most of the action takes place inside the game. Meaning, that if Rossignol wants to make the case that video games are good because they alleviate boredom, he cannot point to the good things that games are doing outside of the game.

Besides, is the alleviation of boredom such a noble goal? Rossignol assumes that his readers will think that it is. But in truth, boredom is symptomatic of deeper issues, such as a lack of interest, or an interest in too many things, information overload, too much leisure time, and our post modern culture's lack of purpose. This Gaming Life shows how many people are finding purpose in games, not to alleviate boredom per se, although it does that to a point, but rather that it fulfills the deep need people have for purpose.

Essentially, Rossignol is on the right track, he just didn't dig deeply enough into the hu8man psyche. He saw alleviation of a symptom as games highest and best use. But what if games give people purpose, as it seems to have done in Rossignol's own life.

Rossignol can be a witty writer, and This Gaming Life is entertaining to read. It is a good entry book for those trying to understand the culture of gaming and useful for its analysis of some the anecdotal evidence for the effect of gaming in the lives of people. The book falls short in actually making an argument for its thesis, and so as an apologetic for gaming as an art form, it needs more development. Rossignol is too much of a gamer to look at it objectively. He sometimes makes some valuable insights, especially when he discusses the future of social gaming like EVE Online and World of Warcraft, but he is too much in love with the medium to really assess it clearly.

This Gaming Life is a worthwhile read for those who want a good overview of some gaming history, gaming culture, and some nebulous predictions about the future of gaming. I found it enjoyable and interesting, but not convincing. ( )
2 vote graspingforthewind | Sep 19, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was kind of surprised to see this book in my mailbox; I definitely couldn't remember having asked for it. I'm not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but that's without a doubt Rossignol's target audience. Frankly, the book comes across as a justification for the recent Peter Pan trend we've been hearing so much about: boys who play forever at the expense of developing the responsibilities of adulthood. The book starts with the author professing his boredom with his job and his preferring to play video games instead; unsurprisingly he is fired. The rest of the book is a paen to the wonders of gaming; Rossignol repeatedly comes across as self-centered and childish in his Rent-like refusal to be one of the three piece suits.

Saving grace: Rossignol has a decent style and a way with words. A pity he couldn't have found a "real job" that allowed him to use them. ( )
  writer1985 | Sep 3, 2008 |
The reviews of this book have been decidedly mixed. It's impossible to characterize all of the criticisms, so I won't even try. But I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it to be an important contribution to understanding "gaming culture" as it has emerged over the past few decades.

"This Gaming Life" starts with the brilliant lines: In May 2000 I was fired from my job as a reporter on a finance newsletter because of an obsession with a video game. It was the best thing that ever happened to me."

From there, author Jim Rossignol takes the reader through the many and complex subcultures that exist in the gaming world. Everything from Eve Online fanatics to Korean Starcraft players is covered here. Since Rossignol is a gamer himself, he manages to portray these groups sympathetically, but can also cast a critical eye when necessary. Importantly, he never categorizes gamers the way the John McCain camp seems to -- cheetoh munching losers who live in their parents' basements.

Instead, one sees the intricate and meaningful experiences games create for people. He takes great pains to show that games can be important but also refuses to bow down to the more didactic uses of games (especially in a chapter entitled "Propaganda"). Ultimately, he believes that games are an antidote to modern boredom. At first glance, it seemed a rather banal conclusion to reach, but upon reflection, I understood just how meaningful that connection is. Boredom, as he points out, is one of those universal things that is also universally ignored by thinkers. We are so close to it that we fail to acknowledge it as having any existence, yet there it is and there it always has been.

There are fascinating things going on in the gaming world and "This Gaming Life" gracefully introduces them to a general audience. ( )
2 vote dmcolon | Aug 26, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm a fairly avid player of video games, and so I was excited to read an extensive portrait of the culture around them. The author's perspective as a well-traveled video game journalist was definitely interesting, but for the most part I felt he was telling me things I already knew. I think this book would be well-suited to someone who didn't know a lot about video games but wanted to learn more, but's not the best for someone who's already in that world. It's also not the book to read if you want an exploration of video games and gender, or violence in video games. ( )
  labbit440 | Aug 13, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities by Jim Rossignol

To start with, I am not much of a gamer. My electronic gaming experience is primarily limited to a monthly “Real Arcade” membership. I buy a game a month and it is usually one of the search and find, word, or puzzle selections. I have played Second Life, but truthfully, am not one to spend much time playing a game that can’t be accomplished at the same time as one listens to an audio book.

Our household is one that entered the arena of electronic games from the early beginnings. We brought home our first Atari in the early eighties and soon purchased a Commodore 64. We still have one sitting in the guest room along with stacks of games. Each member of our family, in addition to playing games, was introduced to the world of computer programming through early gaming. As time passed, the new games and gaming machines became a part of our household. Only part.

However, from the description of how gaming has affected Jim Rossignol’s life and work, I would say that his involvement has become life altering. He speaks of his problems with work and life as if work and life are the problems. From the beginning, it appears that gaming was primary and work and life only barriers to what mattered most. Biographically he relates how he was able to turn what could have become a debilitating addiction into a profession.

Since this book appears to be aimed at a gaming readership, I felt Rossignol was speaking to the choir a bit in his early comments about the benefits of gaming. It would be almost impossible to find an avid gamer who did not know or agree with the fact that gaming is a benefit in the development and refinement of strategic thinking and improvement of fine motor and coordination skills.

The use and structure of teams in electronic gaming was interesting although the inception, structure, and growth occurred concurrent with similar activity within the worldwide business community. I somehow had a bit of difficulty in the comparison of gaming with sports teams. Gaming is primarily participatory, while with sports, the largest number of those involved are spectators.

It was interesting to read of the cultural differences in attitudes towards gaming in the different cities, yet no matter how much one would like to make gaming appear as a group endeavor, it still is in essence a sole pursuit. From the title, one would expect more than electronic gaming. There are large numbers of gamers who actually communicate directly with each other through board games, chess, bridge, magic, and a host of other gaming pastimes. The meet on-line, in shops, homes, restaurants, churches, parks, and anywhere two or more can gather. These players travel to different towns, cities, states, and countries to compete in tournaments. I had hoped to read more about this movement. Perhaps Mr. Rossignol would consider doing a book on this phenomenon. ( )
  muzzie | Jul 25, 2008 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Interesting, but didn't go as far as I'd have hoped. Rossignol actually almost made me want to go explore more video games, but unfortunately none of the ones he talked about (besides the puzzle type games that I already play) sounded appealing. ( )
  kbuxton | Jul 23, 2008 |
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