One of my favourite things about videogames is that they’re not just fun and interesting to play, they’re also fun and interesting to read about. The gaming industry might be relatively young, but it has its own fascinating, tumultuous history that spans several continents and generations. Not only that, it’s an industry filled with some of the most interesting creative personalities in the world, people who are truly passionate about what they do.
Sure, you can have an appreciation of videogames by playing them, but for those that want to add an extra dimension to this appreciation, to know about how the industry has grown to its current mammoth size, or to know a litle more about the people who work behind the games they love so mch, I can’t recommend picking up some well-written books on the topic enough. We’ve gathered together 8 recommendations here that cover the history of the industry and the people behind it so that you can get behind the screen.
8) All Your Base Are Belong to Us – Harold Goldberg
One of the most prolific journalists in the industry, Harold Goldberg is a reliable source for interesting information on the people and processes behind the development of some of the most well-known games out there, including Grand Theft Auto, Bioshock, and The Sims.
In All Your Base Are Belong to Us, Goldberg explores the meteoric rise of videogames and the culture that surrounds them through interesting interviews with some of the greatest individual creative minds in the gaming industry.
7) Power Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life – Chris Kohler
More narrow in scope that Harold Goldberg’s book, Power Up by Chris Kohler is an examination of Japanese contributions to videogames and their culture. Some of the most influential game franchises in the industry’s history have come from Japan, including Super Mario, Final Fantasy, and Pokemon, and Kohler charts how Japanese approaches to game design and storytelling have had an effect on the industry the world over.
Power Up has interviews and anecdotes from industry giants such as Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, as well as others involved in the creation of games like Mario and Donkey Kong. The book was out of print for a while, but it’s being re-released in July 2016, with updated material and a new final chapter.
6) Console Wars – Blake J Harris
Console Wars is less an over-arching historical and impartial account of the war between Sega and Nintendo in the early 90s than it is a love letter to Tom Kalinske and a dramatization of his battle to make Sega strong enough to take on industry giant Nintendo. The book is a narrative account which Harris reportedly interviewed hundreds of people to put together, and although the dialogue Harris has re-created can be more than a little cringeworthy at times (you’ll at least get a laugh out of it), it’s still an enjoyably detailed read that gives an insight into the atmosphere of the industry at the time and the efforts required to come out on top. Plus you’ll probably learn more about the inner workings of Sega than you ever though possible – store it in the pub quiz bank.
5) Masters Of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture – David Kushner
John Carmack and John Romero aren’t two names that everyone will know, but they’re the guys behind the development of industry-changing games Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein. And their story that’s told in Masters of Doom is definitely an interesting one. Although together both men achieved massive success with these games, this book looks at the massive strain on their relationship that came out of it and takes a closer more personal look at the massive industry.
4) Replay: The History of Video Games – Tristan Donovan
Replay by Tristan Donovan is definitely not the lightest read. Rather than focussing on one area of videogames like most of our previous suggestions, this is a book that tries to cover a little bit of everything. And it does it well. At 500 pages, Replay takes readers from 1962 all the way up to 2007, covering the social, economic, and technological growth of the industry. One of the best things about it is that it covers the European gaming industry, as well as America and Japan which you don’t see enough of.
3) The State of Play: 16 Voices on Video Games – a collection of essays
State of Play looks less at the history of gaming, and is more of an exploration of its social and cultural relevance through academic critical essays by industry figures such as Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Ian Bogost. There are 16 essays in all, which explore the idea of how games intersect with our real lives and can be vehicles for ideas and insights into social and gender politics, proving that games are as able to be academically criticised as much as literature or film.
2) Death by Video Game: Tales of Obsession from the Virtual Frontline – Simon Parkin
Another one that takes a look at the more human side of videogames, Simon Parkin’s Death by Video Game is a great book that explores gaming culture and the effects games have on us, both good and bad, from helping us improve ourselves to fostering a fatal obsession. Most people can tell you they’ve sat down to play a game for a quick hour and not noticed hours of their life go past them in some kind of reverse Bernard’s Watch scenario, but for some people this experience is an endless cycle. Simon Parkin uncovers some of the real and interesting stories behind videogame obsession, including a New York surgeon trying to break he Donkey Kong record, and a German hacker who risked prison to uncover the secrets behind Half Life 2.
1) Embed with Games: A Year on the Couch with Game Developers – Cara Ellison
In 2014 writer, games critic, and narrative designer Cara Ellison pledged to the internet she’d travel around the world to live with and write about some of the most interesting indie game developers, their different cultural perspectives, and their creative processes. The Embed With Games series originally took the form of monthly posts on a free blog updated as Cara travelled from couch to couch. The internet, that sometimes benevolent entity, helped fund her travel costs through a subscription service and encouraged the interesting journey to continue. This book is the collected work of this adventure with an exclusive conclusion. It’s a genuinely funny, enlightening read that gives interesting insights into the lives of developers across the world, as well as the place of games in their lives and their cultures. Plus, what an awesome cover.