Veteran UK game journalist Jim Rossignol, currently one of the Big Four at the Rock Paper Shotgun blog, has just published a book called 'This Gaming Life,' documenting his experiences in three different cities pursuing and documenting the culture of online games.
He covers the widespread competitive game scene in Korea, looks into Quake's evolving role in the London game scene, and visits Iceland to see the birthplace of EVE Online, to develop what he says is a story of "how games change the lives of gamers".
I thought the idea of a "travelogue" of game culture was interesting, so I asked Jim a few questions about the book, and his experiences.
How did the book come to be, and why did you want to write it?
Jim Rossignol: It started because of some interest around a feature I wrote on the gaming culture in Korea. PC Gamer UK was commissioning some pretty interesting and aggressive material in 2006, and it came out of that.
I was keen to lay out some of the ideas I'd been collecting in longform - there's only so much you can do when writing disconnected reviews and features. To come up with a wider perspective, and a wider take, on any given subject still requires a book.
What are the ideas that the book deals with, primarily?
JR: It's a book about how games change the lives of gamers. It starts out with a couple of specific cases - my own life and that of some people I know - and moves on to more general instances. The themes the book deal with are pretty diverse - boredom, propaganda, human computation, the nature of games as a medium - but they all tie into the idea that people are changed by gaming, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Can you give a brief example of one of the instances in the story?
JR: Well, one of the more specific instances is the story of a friend of mine who now works in the games industry, but grew up escaping into games as a fairly unhappy child. He's a living instance of the kinds of traits and trends I want to talk about, because he's a person for whom some of the greatest moments in life have been to do with gaming.
Games were a way of escaping boredom and domestic discomfort, but ended up being an incredible life-defining force. He ended up playing Guitar Hero in front of thousands of rock fans at the Donnington Rock Festival in the UK, effectively opening the show for Guns & Roses. (Or so he likes to tell the tale.)
For whom is this book intended, and what kinds of readers do you hope will pick it up?
JR: Well everyone can read it, and will love it, obviously... but in all seriousness, it's an approachable book. Pop documentary, if that's a genre. I suspect there's a way to present any niche subject so that everyone finds it digestible and interesting, and I hope I've done that. It's more like chatty travel literature than dry academia, I feel.
What do you hope people will learn or take away from it?
I hope it helps people to figure out what they really think about video games. I don't want to lecture anyone, just offer some descriptions and examples that might be useful in making up your mind. One of the key tensions in the book is whether video games are fundamentally a waste of time, and what that even means. I'd like to think that both people who don't play games, and the gamers themselves, will find that they're able to discuss the pros and cons of being a habitual gamer a little more fluently once they've read it.