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Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 8, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307378705
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307378705
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Grand Theft Auto IV is both a waste of time and the most colossal creative achievement of the last 25 years, according to this scintillating meditation on the promise and discontents of video games. Journalist Bissell (Chasing the Sea) should know; the ultraviolent car-chase-and-hookers game was his constant pastime during a months-long intercontinental cocaine binge. He's ashamed of his video habit, but also ashamed of being ashamed of the dominant art form of our time; by turning the eye of a literary critic on the gory, seemingly puerile genre of ultraviolent, open-ended shooter games, he finds unexpected riches. Bissell bemoans the uncompromising stupidity of their story lines, wafer-thin characters, and the moronic dialogue, but celebrates the button-pushing, mesmeric qualities and the subtle, profound depths these conceal—the catharses of teamwork and heroism in the zombie-fest Left for Dead, the squirmy moral dilemmas of Mass Effect, the mood of wistful savagery suffusing the rifles-and-chainsaws-bedecked denizens of Gears of War. Bissell excels both at intellectual commentary and evocative reportage on the experience of playing games, while serving up engrossing mise-en-scène narratives of the mayhem. If anyone can bridge the aesthetic chasm between readers and gamers, he can. (June 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Might as well get this out of the way: Bissell is addicted to video games. So much so that he pretty much missed the last presidential election because he was playing a new and highly anticipated game. Here he explores not just his own affection for video games but also the games themselves. What separates good games from bad? Where do video games fit on the sliding scale of art? A video game, Bissell tells us, is a form a self-surrender, but a different form than, say, a movie. We have no influence over what happens in a movie, but we do in a video game. In playing a video game, we are, in a sense, the authors of the stories we’re acting out. Bissell explores the key elements of video games: dialogue, character design, voice performance, visual appearance. Do the best games approach something akin to virtual (or perhaps alternate) reality? Not just for gamers, the book should also appeal to readers who have some serious questions about the nature and impact of video games and their increasing popularity. --David Pitt

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Customer Reviews

There are some parts of this book that work very well.
Syriat
I am one of the rare breed mentioned at the beginning of Tom Bissell's fine book---someone who reads criticism and also plays video games.
Suzanne Amara
Overall, it's just not a pleasant read, and if I could go back in time my future-self would warn me that I would hate this book.
Jenna

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a book that tries to be four different things and, surprisingly, manages to succeed at all of them. Bart Motes took it as a series of essays to be read for enjoyment and insight into the experience and meaning of video games. I agree with what he wrote from that perspective.

My interest is broader and shallower. I am interested in games and play in general, and also in the technology used to create deeply interactive computer software. I only dabble at games at low difficulty levels and short attention span, more to satisfy curiosity than for enjoyment. I have never been stirred by in-game events, it's all pixels to me. Nevertheless, I see their great power, and respect that they are an important part of our evolving culture. You don't understand the world today unless you have at least nodding acquaintance with these games, and this book offers considerably more than a nodding acquaintance. The less you know about video games, the more you need this book.

The ostensible topic of the book is critical analysis of video games. It is an exploration, not a conclusion, and as such it is tentative and dialectical at many points, but can suddenly switch to positive certainty, backed by the authority of the native speaker. I disagree with Bart Motes that the author is apologetic, he is a rigorous advocate for both the games and traditional standards of criticism. The two often conflict, and the book makes only suggestions about potential resolutions. You won't find the answer here, but you will find the question poked hard from a lot of non-obvious angles.

Finally this book is a fascinating piece of autobiographical fiction.
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105 of 137 people found the following review helpful By J. GARRATT VINE VOICE on June 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The subtitle for "Extra Lives" is "Why Video Games Matter." I feel like I never really got a clear answer for that statement.

Tom Bissell is a pretty good writer, but his approach is entirely too academic in order to establish any flow in the reading process. Consider this sentence from page 112:

"Despite science fiction's sui generis presumptions, most sci-fi worlds -- imagined at the balance point of the evolutionary and point-mutational, the cautionary and the aspirational -- imitative."

It's sentences like the above, even if I know the meaning behind a majority of the words here, that make me have to reread them again and again, stifling any momentum. Bissell seems to be afraid that games aren't urbane enough for the academic crowd. But he also feels that he's in danger of being too sophisticated for the gaming community. Thus, his persona goes back and forth between I'm-a-very-learned-fellow-and-know-of-what-I-speak versus I-like-to-digitally-shoot-people-in-the-head-while-I-do-cocaine-with-my-friend.

"Extra Lives" is largely unconnected theories on why people enjoy video games so much. Specifically, video games made within the past ten or fifteen years. There is no sociological umbrella theory at work here, just Tom Bissell's own experiences. I was interested in reading a book about video games and why they matter, but Bissell just seems to come up with a lot of armchair theories on why he likes them, phrased about as fancily as possible.

Here's another nugget of clarity from page 122:

"RPGs that lack Mass Effect's ear for dialogue are often written too broadly for any sense of potential gamer agency to take hold, in which cases interactivity becomes a synonym for 'cudgel.'"

Until Bissell makes his points a little more clearly, I'm waiting to hear some real explanations on why games matter.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By mistermrp on August 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
I'm surprised that this book is rated (relatively) highly by reviewers. In my opinion, the writing is slapdash, the research non-existent, and valuable insights few.

As other reviewers have noted, the title was a problem for me. "Why video games matter" implied to me a thoughtful discussion of video games as an art form, instead I found the book to be a disconnected, meandering series of personal observations about specific titles. It's like titling a book "why film matters" and then filling it with essays about how you really, really liked "back to the future" and "titanic." Yes, it felt that random.

The writing quality seemed contrived to me as well. The second chapter (about "Resident Evil" (aka "Biohazard")) switches to second person for no particularly good reason. It feels forced- like a precocious junior high school student showing off in an essay contest. I also made the mistake of reading the comments on the dust jacket of the hard cover edition. Bisell is described as an "award winning" author. While I read, I was haunted by the question "what awards? Can you take them back?"

There's much better writing out there about games- see the New Yorker magazine's 2011 profile on Shigeru Miyamoto for an example of good writing. That single article contains more insight and research than this entire book.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By trashcanman VINE VOICE on June 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter" fails to live up to it's own name. The surtitle seems to imply that the book is going to analyze the (anti)social phenomenon of video gaming from a broad sociological standpoint and explain it's role in the lives of adult gamers. The truth however, is that Extra Lives reads like a collection of video game reviews, blog posts, and Rolling Stone-style essays based on interviews and encounters with some of the video game industry's most influential members. On this level, the book is a personal journey for the author and reads almost as a writer's defense mechanism trying to rationalize his own love/hate relationship with the medium. It's a very interesting read, but feels a bit unfocused and excessively personal in scope considering how pervasive and controversial gaming is as an entertainment medium. A better title would have been "Extra Life: Why Gaming Matters to Me".

Author Tom Bissell has a problem. He's a published writer with a girlfriend and a good life who reads poetry, loves books and intellectually-stimulating cinema, and travels the world. Yet he pours hours and hours and hours into playing video games. He even missed out on the election of the first black president because he couldn't tear himself away from Fallout 3. This seems to be a source of massive anxiety for him. How could he miss out on a watershed moment in the history of his country so he could battle post-apocalyptic raiders all by himself in a virtual pretend world? A good portion of Extra Lives is spent expressing embarrassment over his addiction and haphazardly attempting to justify it even has he makes broad statements about how intrinsically stupid games are.
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