- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Candlemark & Gleam (April 17, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1936460238
- ISBN-13: 978-1936460236
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 77 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #444,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Constellation Games Paperback – April 17, 2012
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On a primary level, this is a story about about gaming, from an anthropological perspective. It's first contact with aliens, and the culture clash that goes with it, from the perspective of video game nerd Ariel (and the alien anthropologists/historians he befriends). Throughout the book, Ariel reviews alien games, and through this experience uncovers just how *alien* these aliens can be. What "makes" a video games is questioned from every perspective -- the mechanics (aliens use different sensory experiences to play), theming, broader cultural and political messages, storytelling, personal significance, social bonding, the labor organization that creates them, and why we play to begin with.
I don't even play video games (except for those $1 phone apps that Ariel complains about), but my passion and knowledge of tabletop games are transferable for the core messages here. Even better -- On a broader level, this exploration on gaming is also about: art and cultural communication, geek culture, the role of storytelling and historical record within societies, escapism and nostalgia for youth vs taking responsibility for our own lives and communities.
This book is kinda what I wanted from Ready Player One, but didn't get from that. It's an intensely geeky novel, but in a way that uses nerd culture as a way to explore human nature at its core. It's not dependent on references or familiarity with niche details, but rather the *feel* of it. You won't recognize any games referenced within the book (fictional), but you will recognize, for example: Ariel's resentment of games designed only with capitalistic appeal to the masses; you'll recognize his desire to use his chosen medium (video games) to create art and to make a statement on why people game. Nerds are people who love something niche, who pay such close attention to it that they have a deeper understanding of the subject matter and why it's important -- not just memorizing trivia or using it as an aesthetic.
Ariel is intensely familiar to me as a character. He feels like someone I'm already friends with -- not a particular individual, but more like a category of nerd that I'm endeared by and relate to. I recognize him. I *know* him. His sharp brand of snark is wickedly funny, but what's notable I think is that it's not employed to be edgy or superior, but as a way to cope with self-deprecation and his own sensitivity. While the first half of the book sets up this snarky humor and the game blog/aspirations, the second half lays bare the humanity in Ariel and thus the story as a whole. All the characters, really, are immensely endearing, especially the aliens who manage to be truly alien as well as relatable (and *hilarious*). Even the romantic element at the end won me over, which tends to be a tough sell for me in these types of books (but maybe that's because in this case it doesn't end perfectly). The people within feel real, reacting in the weird ways real people do. There's emotions and a sentimental passion at the core that helps ground that higher-flying Big Scifi Ideas.
On a technical level, this is far from a perfect book, despite my ravings, and at times rather amateur. It starts off a bit slow, and it's not all that plot-driven, but rather hops and skips a bit between points. The blog entries / instant messaging gimmick makes for fun reading, but the way "real life" entries have to be tied in to advance anything or that dialogue is recreated in blog posts kinda makes for a weird inability to distinguish between them. Also, what I assume to be the climax in a traditional plot sense wasn't all that gripping, and at the end the book kinda petered out. (Although I could argue the open-ended nature of the ending was pefectly suited to the themes the book was conveying, it isn't quite satisfying for a reader perhaps.) I include these criticisms for your own information, but they clearly didn't hinder my own enjoyment.
Overall, I want more people to read this book, if only because that might spur the author to write a sequel. Highly recommend, if nothing else than because it's just plain *fun* -- in fact, I might read it again myself...
I loved the book. It's written in the form of emails, blog posts and text messages set back and forth between humans, aliens, and intelligent computers; and it cuts to the heart of being human.
The ending felt a little abrupt, with a bit of a different tone than most of the novel. I would have liked more resolution, but I also like that things are left open but hopeful. I'd certainly love to see a sequel!
Of special note, to me at least, is how the story's "tone" evolves. It's pretty down at first, but the main character -- a prototypical reluctant hero -- manages to pull himself up. Left me feeling optimistic.