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Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom…
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Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

by Tom Bissell

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For someone who claims that video games matter, Bissell spends a lot of time in a state of ambivalence about games and his relationship to them. (He even has his girlfriends appear at regular intervals as a kind of disdainful Greek chorus, as if his own ambivalence wasn't enough.) I don't think he ever comes out and says why video games matter, and in the end makes a deliberately timed revelation about himself that pretty much seems to be an attempt to make sure his readers become as ambivalent about gaming as he is. Plus he only talks about one small slice of games (console first-person-shooters), which makes this his personal gaming memoir, but absolutely not the broad survey implied in the title. Eh.

But I did really like the first half of the second chapter, where in 2nd person narrative he describes the 'shock of the new' he experienced playing Resident Evil for the first time. ( )
  MelissaZD | Jan 1, 2014 |
Skimmed most of it. Blog-quality writing. Serious lack of depth and content for someone as snotty as he seems to be. Don't bother reading this one. ( )
  marti.booker | Dec 2, 2013 |
Bissell's book spins around gaming narrative; how could a medium that seemingly is rife with plot and storyline be so empty and soulless? He explores this question through nine chapters, most revolving around a particular game such as Grand Theft Auto IV, Fallout 3, and Mass Effect. As the book progresses, Bissell uncovers some answers to his questions, yet continues to posit more. It's an enlightening book. It is EXTREMELY personal to the author, though. You'll hear plenty of references to an assortment of girlfriends he's had over the years, some heavy drug use in the GTA chapter, and other anecdotes. At times the individualism of the book is a tad much; the GTA chapter certainly explores Bissell's attachment to cocaine and GTA during his playtime, but I'm not sure if I needed to go along for that ride. It's peppered with interviews with designers, as well, which is a nice touch. Overall, I enjoyed the book and got some ruminations to ponder from it, and wouldn't mind actually owning a paperback copy to refer to later. ( )
  WildcatJF | Jul 3, 2013 |
Have you ever had an intelligent conversation about video games? Out of all my friends there is only one who I can talk to in video games that goes beyond the basic “Did you beat (game title here) yet?”. When I say intelligent conversation I’m talking about a serious critique of a game. With this one friend I can tell him about that part in Mass Effect when I had to choose between Ashley and Kaidan. They were both pinned down by enemy forces but I could only get to one of them in time. The one I failed to choose would be killed. My jaw hung there as I stared at the screen. To lose a character after spending 20 hours is devastating, let alone having to pick between the two. Sophie’s Choice anyone? Anyway, that’s the kind of event that I like talking about when it comes to video games. When I try talking about Portal and my relationship with the Companion Cube, he kind of just gives me an unsure glace, not knowing the emotional turmoil I faced before dropping the Companion Cube in to the fire. In all fairness, I probably give him the same look when he talks about the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Extra Lives by Tom Bissell is an entire book made up of intelligent essays about video games and the emotion/psychological impact they have on players. He covers all the big games: Grand Theft Auto, Mass Effect, Fallout 3, Far Cry and more. He discusses how players identify with characters they can custom create like in Mass Effect versus characters that are build by the publishes such in Grand Theft Auto IV. It was really interesting because he present ideas and concepts that make sense and seem obvious but had never crossed my mind because I never thought about it in that particular way. This book will appeal to the college student who, in between studying, will take a break for a few quick rounds of Halo. Like Halo, it’s easy to lose track of time and you’ll find yourself saying “just one more chapter” until hours of have passed and you discover that you’ve spent your whole day reading/playing video games.

This book was a fond trip down memory lane for me. All the games he talked about I would get distracted thinking about them. The Mass Effect chapter was particularly hard because I have spent many, many, many hours in that game, and I consider it one of my favorites. I can not recommend this book enough. Even if you don’t play video games, you’re bound to know someone who does and Extra Lives would make a great gift. ( )
  thebookpirate | Mar 1, 2011 |
A book nominally about the art of video games - not the art of design, not the art of the screen, but the intrinsic artistic value of video games. Bissell has two criterion for a work to be considered art: it must emotionally affect the audience and it must claim something higher than itself really. For example, the bloody horror in Apocalypse Now does have some greater meaning, both in the emotional import of the storyline and the morality tale it portrays. Call of Duty blows stuff to smithereens. In that sense, Manhunt, a snuff-fetish like game may be considered emotionally affect (he says he quit playing it was so skeezy, but doesn't hold greater meaning. I applaud him on his analysis of games so far, but believe the true value of maodern gaming is in the social interaction that Halo and WoW offer, not the narrative.

That being said, I truly believe also that this is a lightly veiled love letter to and trying to explain away cocaine addiction.
  woodshopcowboy | Jan 18, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
“Extra Lives” is a busy, scattered book — a series of essays and pieces of reportage, several of them previously published — that lacks a narrative or a sustained argument. The book scurries around like Mario, the industrious plumber in Super Mario Brothers, hopping over low brick walls. Very often it’s as dull as someone telling you his dreams. A more accurate subtitle might have been, “You Had to Be There.”
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307378705, Hardcover)

Tom Bissell is a prizewinning writer who published three widely acclaimed books before the age of thirty-four. He is also an obsessive gamer who has spent untold hours in front of his various video game consoles, playing titles such as Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, BioShock, and Oblivion for, literally, days. If you are reading this flap copy, the same thing can probably be said of you, or of someone you know.
 
Until recently, Bissell was somewhat reluctant to admit to his passion for games. In this, he is not alone. Millions of adults spend hours every week playing video games, and the industry itself now reliably outearns Hollywood. But the wider culture seems to regard video games as, at best, well designed if mindless entertainment.
 
Extra Lives is an impassioned defense of this assailed and misunderstood art form. Bissell argues that we are in a golden age of gaming—but he also believes games could be even better. He offers a fascinating and often hilarious critique of the ways video games dazzle and, just as often, frustrate. Along the way, we get firsthand portraits of some of the best minds (Jonathan Blow, Clint Hocking, Cliff Bleszinski, Peter Molyneux) at work in video game design today, as well as a shattering and deeply moving final chapter that describes, in searing detail, Bissell’s descent into the world of Grand Theft Auto IV, a game whose themes mirror his own increasingly self-destructive compulsions.
 
Blending memoir, criticism, and first-rate reportage, Extra Lives is like no other book on the subject ever published. Whether you love video games, loathe video games, or are merely curious about why they are becoming the dominant popular art form of our time, Extra Lives is required reading.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:46 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A personal assessment of the author's addiction to video games explores his favorites, their roles as modern forms of popular art, and their habit-forming appeal while considering how he has neglected his professional and social responsibilities in favor of gaming activities.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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