Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Misleading Title of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

I just finished reading Tom Bissell's Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. It reads a bit like a series of extended and thoughtful blogposts on how games affect Bissell personally and how they can be better narratively. Even though his taste in games is almost the opposite of mine (every time I try to like a FPS, I fail), I found his discussion thought-provoking and insightful. I completely agree that video games should pay more attention to their writers and make conversations less barf-worthy. 

My main observation of this book is that the title leads readers to believe the book will be an organized treatise backed by scientific studies about video games (a book I would like to read), when it is rather a series of personal narratives about how video games are a personally meaningful art form that has the potential to be more awesome. Its best audience might be people who already love video games, not those who need convincing (those who need convincing should just go play a game, in my opinion). I especially enjoyed the little sneak-peaks into studios he described, such as how BioWare has a reference library complete with The Celtic Book of the Dead and an idiot's guide to world religion (for lore). Last I heard Bissell was working on a video game script (as in, dialogue trees), and I'm eager to see what he comes up with.

I'm becoming increasingly aware of the strange ghettoization of gamers. It comes up briefly in the book: "More than any form of entertainment, video games tend to divide rooms into Us and Them." At a women's group activity at my church, we played a game where we would say something about ourselves and other women who had that thing in common would raise their hands. I made some clarifying point that then, we should choose facts about ourselves that aren't too unique, and an acquaintance commented jokingly that I should "leave Mario out of it." Most of the other women in my neighborhood see my gaming as a guilty pleasure, which seems odd given that, supposedly, some 40% of women play video games of one kind or another. I think it might have to be something you grow up with, like sports or playing a musical instrument, but nerdier. I don't think it should be that way, though perhaps the hardware and time commitment demand it.

1 comment:

  1. I think for a lot of women, the games they play are often addictive puzzle games like Bejeweled and Solitaire. If you spend two hours playing Bejeweled, it feels a lot more like a waste of time than if you spend two hours playing a game that rewards you either literally (with XP) or abstractly (with plot). Then there's games that people play, but don't actually require any strategy or have any plot, like Mafia Wars (and maybe Farmville? I haven't played it). When you realize this, it feels more like a waste of time than a game where your strategies make a difference.

    Also, as a mom, when kids play games it's not always obvious that anything worthwhile is going on. They're not (usually) getting exercise, or reading a book, or employing scholoarly strategy like in chess, and since moms are pressured to make their kids awesome, and often want a justification for making their kids do something else, video games are seen as a waste of time.

    That's my hypothesis, anyway! Some actual research in this area would be interesting.