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Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

av Tom Bissell

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
4521155,347 (3.41)2
Synopsis: 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 out earns 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.… (mer)
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Being a fan of Bissell's videogame reviews (for the defunct Grantland), and of his other works, I had hoped for the book this sometimes seems to promise: an exploration of why video games capture something of one's attention in spite of all of the things that feel wrong about devoting time to them. And at times, it approaches the point at which the game-player's life, the author's life and art, and the interactive nature of the form intersect, and then (the writing) caroms off of the idea that there can be moments there that are profoundly meaningful to one specific player in a way that a movie or book, by nature, can not quite achieve because they are completely authored.

But there isn't much exploration of that; instead it is mostly anecdote about times and ways some specific games caused those sorts of moments for him, Tom Bissell. Which isn't to say that it isn't interesting, but it has a "book on a deadline"-"let's make some money"* talking about a thing I love, feel that the rest of his oeuvre that I've read does not.

* A la Bitch by Elizabeth Wurtzel ( )
  danieljensen | Oct 14, 2022 |
I'm not nearly serious enough about gaming to appreciate this book. However, I got enough out if it that I'm glad I finished it. ( )
  achmorrison | Jul 13, 2021 |
Self indulgent ramblings by a childish self confessed cokehead. The only amazing feat this book accomplishes is sounding pretentious without actually claiming anything grand. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
This is an extremely thought-provoking and well-written book and could be read by any writer looking for insights into writing (and not just for video games). What can story-tellers learn from the gaming world? The question of story is increasingly occupying the video game industry, as was made clear by a resent NYT piece on the new Gears of War release that features this author as one of the game creators (he is apparently getting less into playing and more into game-creation). Some take-aways:

1. Writers of fiction devolve action out of character; writers for games devolve character from action, essentially imposing character on top of code. As Bissell writes, gamers resist having any predetermined character set that will “interfere” with “total play,” essentially being the “agent of chaos in the video-game world.”

2. Bissell praises some game writers for “narrative minimalism,” where a player left (for example) in a zombie-infested world has no greater goal than survival. These games refuse “to explore the who, what, why, or how of its zombie citizenry” (41-42).

3. Bissell also makes a distinction between a set frame (zombie apocalypse) and the “ludonarrative,” the modifiable steps a character takes between points A and Z, always changing and shifting but inevitably ending up in the preset terminus. Perhaps there’s a parallel with genre, in which a thriller is a set frame with a ludonarrative that shifts given the protagonist and setting. There are certain things genre narrative must doi, just as there are limitations (at least for now) in on-line games.

4. One of the most interesting points Bissell makes is that players can feel real emotion and engagement with a game. But often, that doesn’t come from the game itself but through the experience of playing and bonding with other players while game-playing. After a particularly harrowing sequence of “Left 4 Dead,” when Bissell abandons his on-line teammates to a savvy zombie horde, he is shamed into risking his character’s life to save surviving players. “At great personal risk, and out of real shame, I had rescued two of my three friends and in the process outfaced against all odds one of the best Left 4 Dead teams I had and have ever played against. I realized, then, vividly, that Left 4 Dead offered a rare example in which a game’s theme (cooperation) was also what was encouraged within the actual flow of gameplay… all of the emotions I felt during those few moments – fear, doubt, resolve, and finally courage – were as intensely vivid as any I have felt while reading a novel or watching a film or listening to a piece of music. For what more can one ask? What more could one want?” (46-47)

5. For the most part, the characters in games don’t change through play; they are the vehicles of exploration (80). However, players can change as a part of their interactions with other players. So the story unfolds in the space of the player as a character within the framed narrative, because of his "ludotropic" and unpredictable actions.

6. The act of playing with others is profoundly different from reading, even if you read the same book and discuss it later in a class or with a friend or in a book club. A key part of gaming is increasingly that it is not only a shared experience, but that a central part of the experience is the competing against or bonding with others, even those you only know by their silly online names.

7. Games don’t pose arguments, they present systems with which to interact” : Video game critic Chris Dahlen. But fiction starts with the variables, not the system (Bissell). These are “very different formal constraints" (86).

8. Until recently, games have lacked the “stickyness” comes with emotion, when characters really stick with you. That, though, is also morphing with games like Bioware's Mass Effect and Rock Star's Grand Theft Auto IV.

9. I wonder if the new motion consoles, like the Kinect, will lead to players actually inhabiting and speaking for their online avatars?

Ludonarrative (from Wikipedia): a portmanteau of ludology and narrative, refers to the aspects of video game storytelling that are controlled by the player. It is contrasted with fixed or embedded narrative which are the purely narrative, non-interactive aspects of the game that are determined by the game's designers and told through cutscenes or other related devices. Ludonarrative is considered an essential concept in videogame theory

( )
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
I think this books title is wrong. I read through this whole thing, which is written like someone studying for the SATs - littered with large obscure words for no other reason then to use large obscure words, and I still don't know why games don't matter. Perhaps a better title would have been "Why Video Games Matter to Me" or perhaps "Good Writing makes Good Games."

The book gives a brief history of the top games of the last decade (2000-2010) and talks about why they were the top games. It also includes several interviews with game designers about the choices they made and what they think makes good games. It's a lot of good information if you don't know much about console gaming and want a background of the best in the industry. However, the writing includes a lot of references to geek and pop culture which would go over the heads of people that would benefit most from that information.

So if you are looking for something that talks about video games and it's impact on culture, this is not the book for you. If you want to read about someone who played a lot of video games and what he thinks of them... then this is your book. ( )
  nmorse | Dec 3, 2019 |
Visa 1-5 av 11 (nästa | visa alla)
“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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Synopsis: 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 out earns 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.

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