With video game manuals having mostly died out over the past 15 years, you might be surprised to learn that there are still plenty of opportunities to read about video games! For the first time ever, I’m going to channel my inner-Oprah and devote some space in this blog to printed media. So, the next time your thumbs start to cramp up or your retinas begin to fry from playing games too long, here are a few less interactive suggestions to get you through those trying times.
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
By: David Kushner
Let’s kick things off with the most page-turning-est book on the list. I absolutely devoured this masterclass in storytelling that takes you through the rise and fall of id Software – the creators of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, and more. From their humble beginnings as a secret startup stealing equipment from their day jobs to their ultimate undoing by the egos of founders John Carmack and John Romero, there is not a single dull moment to be had. Also, for my fellow Millennials, it’s an interesting history of Shareware, a concept we (or at least my late to the PC game self) just missed out on.
Once Upon Atari: How I Made History By Killing an Industry
By: Howard Scott Warshaw
Atari legend and face of the video game crash of the 1980s Howard Scott Warshaw’s memoir is perhaps the most amusing and humorous book I have ever read about video games. There are plenty of great Atari drug fueled hijinks but also lots of reflection and soul searching present as Warshaw details his rapid rise from creating breakaway hits like Yars’ Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark to plummeting back to Earth with the impossible task of building the infamous E.T. in just 5 weeks. Framed around the excavation of the mass E.T. gravesite in the Nevada dessert that had seemed like the stuff of Urban Legends, the story has a ton of heart and insight while never losing sight of the oversized fun of gaming’s complicated history.
If you’d like to learn more about the book and Warshaw, check out the fantastic interview with him on this episode of Gamers Week Podcast that fortunately convinced me to buy the book.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games are Made
By: Jason Schreier
In his debut novel, prominent games journalist Jason Schreier (previously of Kotaku, now of Bloomberg and the stellar Triple Click Podcast) tells the stories of the troubled productions of 10 (in)famous video games including Dragon Age: Inquisition, Uncharted 4, Stardew Valley, The Witcher 3, a never released Star Wars game, and more. Despite being better researched and more journalistic than the other books on the list, it does not sacrifice anything in the fun department as the stories are absolutely bananas and fascinating cautionary tales for those looking to get involved in the crunch-filled world of video game development.
Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry
By: Jason Schreier
While not as breezy as Schreier’s previous book, Press Reset, is perhaps a more compelling and cohesive narrative that takes you through the downfalls of several gaming studios including Curt Schilling’s grand blunder 38 Studios. Thanks to having some common threads among employees of the various companies, the tales flow together more as a full story than the episodic approach of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. It’s a thrilling insight into the same mistakes being made over and over again by video game companies seeking skyrocketing profits and the previously untold human cost of it all.
Itchy, Tasty: An Unofficial History of Resident Evil
By: Alex Aniel
If you’re a fan of the greatest survival horror series of all time, you should definitely check out this book telling the detailed history of the first 10 years of the Resident Evil series from the original breakout Playstation hit through some weird attempts at handheld games and various bouts of console exclusivity (RIP Dreamcast and GameCube) all the way to its resurgence with Resident Evil 4. Throughly sourced from interviews with the many creators skyrocketed to fame by the series, there are tons of astonishing facts I never knew before, but it occasional becomes apparent Aniel is a Resident Evil super fan and not a journalist in his writing. Still, that does not detract too much from the overall experience.
Boss Fight Books
Typically around 200 pages
The Boss Fight Books series is one of the best ways to dive deeper into the classic games you love. With 28 books and counting, there are certainly multiple options that will peak the interest of any gamer in your life, and at around 200 pages a piece, they’re a fairly small commitment to take on that won’t keep you from your ever-growing gaming backlog for too long.
So far, I have read 3 different titles in the series. My favorite, Silent Hill 2, gives one of the most thorough explorations of the classic horror game you could hope for. Super Mario Bros. 3, meanwhile, was a poignant reflection on the game itself and the author’s own childhood and sexuality. Lastly, Metal Gear Solid was one of the most humorous books I’ve ever read featuring the competing prose of siblings Ashly and Anthony Burch (also known as Aloy from the Horizon series and the writer of Borderlands 2). Typing this up was a great reminder that I need to check out how the series has expanded in the year since I last visited it and get some more titles for my shelf.
The NES Endings Compendium: Years 1985-1988
By: Rey Esteban
Maybe you’re not looking for a full story to read, but you just want something you can browse through for a good time. Look no further than the thoroughly awesome NES Endings Compendium. It’s literally just the end screens and information for all NES games made from 1985-1988. So, the next time you get frustrated trying to beat a notoriously difficult 8-bit adventure, just whip out this book and get the sweet satisfaction of seeing some pixelated finales.
Can you think of anything I missed among your reading essentials? Feel free to post in the comments, so I can get started on Volume 2 of The Pwned and Operated Book Club.