The thing is, if you're going to write a nonfiction book and include some autobiographical elements, like your own experiences playing video games, you've got to face the fact that it can either enrich your narrative, adding a personal voice to the information you're presenting, or it can drive your reader absolutely ballistic because you're being kind of annoying.
Unfortunately, Tom Bissell's Most Favoritest Moments in Video Games falls under the latter category. Rather than answering the question asked in the subtitle of this book, "Why video games matter," he instead takes the reader on an occasionally drug-laced trip through why he likes video games. Along the way he peppers in references to the fact that he's single and can't hold a relationship, he's traveled all over the world, and (totally randomly) he was addicted to cocaine while he played through Grand Theft Auto IV who knows how many times.
That book could have been good, but this book as it is is trying too hard. It's part that, and partartsy-fartsy commentary on video games and how they make us (er, Tom Bissell) think about violence and character and story. It's the latter that I liked the best despite it occasionally being extremely heavy-handed and smug. I don't think Far Cry 2
is some kind of amazingly well-crafted love letter to violence and escapism and man's inhumanity to man, and I don't think the people who made the Grand Theft Auto
games are making particularly clever statements when they put a coffee cup in the Statue of Liberty's hand or call Metlife Getalife. He says himself that so many people go into making a game, from the water streaks on a car window to a character's expression to the cutscene dialogue, that you break away from the individual hand of the author in a novel or the coordinated efforts of screenwriter/director/producer/etc. of a movie. I would say it is really very difficult for a game that has dozens of people working on it to come together to create something as artistic as Tom Bissell thinks video games are.
I do love video games. Video games brought me some fond memories: playing rented games on my dad's Xbox, obsessing over the winding plot of Tales of Symphonia
with my then-boyfriend in my college dorm, beating Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
with my little brother, and more. But I don't think that talking about them the way Tom Bissell does is going to advance them in anyone's mind quite yet. Yes, some people are devoted to games the way they devote themselves to any true artistic measure. The indie games on the PlayStation Network, WiiWare and XBox Live attest to that. But I don't think you can put a game churned out by a big company up on a pedestal. (Except Mass Effect
. I'll put Mass Effect
right up there with all the love Tom gives it. Even if he played Shepard totally wrong.)
Up there I said the trip through this book is "occasionally drug-laced," but I think that's the wrong choice of words. Drugs are only mentioned in the very last chapter, which is why it seems so random once he starts to wax poetic about cocaine. He tries to tie his journey through Grand Theft Auto IV to his cocaine addiction, and it just falls flat. You cannot yet compare a video game to real life. He just comes across as a total loser in that chapter and it was a really awkward way to end the book.
I'm waiting for a really good book on this topic.