Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Graduated Gamer Reads A Book

As I usually do with my friends, I recently got into a long conversation about retro gaming: which console was the best, what games you played or wish you’d played, things that retro games had that modern gen games don’t (“dying…a lot” seemed to be the consensus answer), and general arguing over what games are best. Afterwards, I was recommended a book to read. That book was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I was already in the middle of A Dance with Dragons, but since that’s a hefty book that I could use a break from, I went right out and bought a copy of Cline’s novel.

Growing up I wasn't much of a reader. The only consistent reading I did was when Brian Jacques (RIP) released a new book in the Redwall series. Otherwise, I typically spent most of my free time  playing video games  in the basement or having N64 sleepovers at my best friend’s place (Goldeneye 007 Multiplayer Champ - Sleepover of ’98!). To me, books weren't immediately gratifying and took too long, so I opted to instead play epic JRPGs that sucked up 80+ hours of my life <rolls eyes at self>. I eventually outgrew that “not reading” habit, but had they written a book like Ready Player One when I was growing up, I would have read more (and if they did, I sadly never heard of it).

One of the best fantasy series for any age, period.

Ernest Cline’s first novel takes place in a not-too-distant future on a resource depleted and desolate Earth. Human’s finally pushed the planet to the breaking point and now only the rich could afford to live comfortably while the rest of humanity lived in squalor. However, thanks to a revolutionary MMO game, the OASIS, people could literally immerse themselves in a virtual world and leave behind their ruinous existence (think World of Warcraft, but massive and with the use of a more advanced Oculus Rift).

Mixed in with this are more gaming and pop culture references form the 80s than you’d ever imagine existed. Ernest Cline is obviously a man who loves the 80s and retro gaming, and it clearly shows in his writing. The real stars of this love fest are classic gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 and Magnavox Odyssey and arcade hits like Joust and Pac Man. If you grew up watching movies like WarGames, then you’ll not only get all the references, but you’ll love this book. And even if you were just born in the 80s but spent your childhood gaming in the 90s (like me), you’ll still appreciate the passion for video games throughout the novel.

Of course this takes less time and effort than reading a book...

While reading Ready Player One, a though occurred to me – I was reading a book about video games, and not just any book, but a New York Times best-selling novel. Growing up, if I wanted to write a book about my love for the N64 and the Game Boy and the PS2, I would've immediately thought “there’s no way anyone wants to hear some nerd ramble about RPGs and video game soundtracks.” See, growing up I always felt a stigma with my passion for video games (and still do today to a certain degree). Despite my lengthy love-affair with my hobby, I was able to be sociable enough to get a close-knit group of friends, the vast majority of which didn't understand why I spent so much time with a controller in my hands. Regardless, they rarely openly ragged on me about it, but I still felt like my interests made me an outsider. Because of this, I always considered gaming as this secluded, otherworldly sect of human hobbies, where the only people who could enjoy it would be those who could never connect with anyone but like-minded individuals (the term “social lepers” comes to mind).

I eventually realized that I was not defined by my gaming, but deep down I still felt a bit of shame (looking back I realize this was self-perpetuated as my friends and family were, if not supportive of my habits, accepted that they were a part of who I was). So imagine my joy when I started reading a book openly and proudly displaying its fervor for gaming. And not just any gaming: retro, old-school, “I coded my own text adventure game at the age of 10”, holy 8-bit graphics gaming. Despite all the stigma that gaming has gone through over the years – the mocking, the public image of pimple-faced virgins living in their parent’s basements, the congressional hearing on violence in gaming, Shaq Fu – people in the world are finally willing to read a geek-out novel on the subject.

Don't worry - this book isn't an illusion.

Somewhere deep inside, Middle-School-Gamer is smiling and understands that times are changing for today’s generation of gamers. Sure, there will always be people in this world that look down on us and see us as pasty agoraphobics with nary a real world friend in sight, but those people are, and will always be, wrong. There are millions of people in this world who have a hobby that they love, and the majority of them are well-adjusted people with families and jobs (because let’s face it, gaming ain't cheap). Even though I know that I’ll always have an unfounded internal conflict between being a “socially awkward” gamer and a “normal” person in society, I have hope that the future will hold a brighter outlook for gamers; that they will not have to face the level of stigma that previous generations had to endure. A national best-selling book about the hobby we love so much is a damn good start.


  1. Does Scott Pilgrim count as a book about video games? They're pretty amazing...

    1. Hm, not sure. Is it a graphic novel? If not, no, although I consider them to be a legitimate form of entertainment media. I myself own several Batman graphic novels.

  2. i am a twitter follower @fdp4life

    susansmoaks at gmail dot com


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