The Gaming Books You Must Read

The Gaming Books You Must Read

This is embarrassing to admit, but I haven’t read much in the way of nonfiction books about video games. Don’t get me wrong: there’s some incredible work out there. In general, however, I’ve found that digging around for more books very quickly slides into work that is prohibitively technical, academic or both.

Seeing how all of you people here at Kotaku know more about video games than pretty much anybody else I’ve ever met, I wanted to see what books you have to recommend. Or documentaries. Or whatever, really. Is there anything that you have encountered that proved to be particularly inspirational, informative, thought-provoking, or just plain fun? What are the sacred texts that have helped with your own life as a person who loves games?

I’m dying to know: What’s on your must-read list? Please sound off in the comments with any and all recommendations. As a journalist I have a soft spot for nonfiction, but anything with that involves words is welcome!

Here’s a template to follow if you’re into that sort of thing:

[Book Name]

Why it qualifies: What do you like about it? What is unique or compelling about the story or how the author captures the subject at hand?

Anything else: What happened after you finished the book? Did it lead you further down any path in video game literature? Is there any experience level required for reading your favourite book or series? If so, what’s the best starting point for an interesting newbie such as yours truly?

Picture: The Found Animals Foundation


  • A small request, apologies for not sticking to instructions!

    I’m after the Game Over book but not sure what edition I need to look for. It’s the one about Yamauchi/Nintendo/Japanese gaming from quite a while ago now.

    Thanks in advance.

    • not sure if @neo_kaiser is reffering to the novels or the book Masters Of Doom. This book is absolutely amazing. Its a very inspiring novel.

    • I adored the 4 Doom novels when I was a kid. Read them like a billion times. They really went out there with sci-fi ideas I’d never heard of before in the later books (time dilation etc) so totally blew my mind. I’m sure they’re actually trash and I’ve got nostalgia goggles on but whatever!


    “The King of Game Trivia”

    Why it qualifies: It’s a novel about a guy who enters a game trivia tournament. There are actual trivia questions peppered throughout the book.

    Anything else: It’s the first (only?) novel based on a homebrew Nintendo DS game.

  • All of the Super Mario Bros choose your own adventure novels are nothing less than literary masterpieces.

  • The Super Mario Bros choose your own adventure books are nothing less than literary masterpieces.

  • “Masters of Doom”, by David Kushner.
    Tells the story if id software and the early ’90s gaming industry in the style of a novel. Very informative and entertaining.

    Other than that, I can’t think of too many books. I personally loved the “Game Design: Secrets of the Sages” series of books back in the ’90s, before the Internet made interviews so easy to come across.

    There are some pretty incredible blogs out there, though, which contain enough content to fill a book.

    Jordan Mechner’s diaries from the development of Karateka and Prince of Persia are amazing. You can get them as a book or just read them on his blog ( and I can’t recommend them highly enough. A fun look into what goes into creating a game (indie game development hasn’t changed all that much since the ’90s), and particularly fascinating if you’re a fan of Prince of Persia.

    Patrick Wyatt’s blog ( has a bunch of behind-the-scenes stories from Blizzard, which are pretty fascinating.

    There are plenty of others, but I guess I’m kind of off the topic of the article already 🙂

  • Racing the Beam
    Rightly known as ‘The Right Stuff’ of video games, I found this a truly compelling read. Goes into detail about the early Atari VCS days, and the breakthroughs made, by focusing on the development of 6 important titles.
    Riveting stuff, you find out about all sorts of things that were invented on the fly, only to become video game staples that are still used today. Really great stuff.
    Is available on kindle as well.
    This book lead me into a deeper look at how early consoles worked, and got me into emulation.

    Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost discuss the Atari VCS itself and examine in detail six game cartridges: Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, Yars’ Revenge, Pitfall!, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. They describe the technical constraints and affordances of the system and track developments in programming, gameplay, interface, and aesthetics. Adventure, for example, was the first game to represent a virtual space larger than the screen (anticipating the boundless virtual spaces of such later games as World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto), by allowing the player to walk off one side into another space; and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was an early instance of interaction between media properties and video games.

    Montfort and Bogost show that the Atari VCS—often considered merely a retro fetish object—is an essential part of the history of video games.

  • Geek Sublime by Vikram Chandra
    A really amazing insight into the relationship between programming, language and literature.
    It also goes a long way to explain why women are mostly excluded from programming in modern times, when at the beginning most programmers were women. It is also a great read contrasting US, British and Indian culture in the programming industry.
    Not specifically about the games industry, but very much about the programming culture it grew out of.

  • – Video Game related fiction –

    Scott Pilgrim graphic novels: Bryan Lee O’Malley. Plenty of love for games in here.

    Ready Player One: Ernest Cline

    A fully-immersive VR named OASIS is preferable to the decaying world. Players within this world are engaged in the ultimate easter egg hunt; to find the clues and solve the riddles to win the ultimate prize – total control over the OASIS.

    A little too meta in some spots, but generally quite fun. The geeky old school pop culture references are really good, even if some of the characters are not.

    – Actual Video Game books –

    Metal Gear Solid, MGS2 Sons of Liberty, MGS Guns of the Patriot: Raymond Benson

    Very faithful to the game series; totally canon, and an excellent way to explain a really in-depth and sometimes overwhelming storyline.

    Mass Effect series: Drew Karpyshyn (1-3), William C. Dietz (4).

    Stories in the Mass Effect universe outside outside of Shepard’s direct world. Pretty good if you love the ME universe and just want some more biotic goodness, but not at all canon and often puts forward suggestions which are completely contradictory to the games.

    Ico: Castle in the Mist: Miyuke Miyabe

    For a game without much being said, this is a surprisingly in-depth read. Very nice, but will probably only be truly appreciated if you’ve played the game.

  • Masters Of Doom

    A seriously fantastic look at the two Johns (Romero and Carmack), how id came together, and all the crazy shit that went down before, during and after DOOM’s launch. It gives a great insight the psyche of the people involved, (Hell, it even made me see Romero in a more respectable light after the Daikatana debacle), as well as the pop culture that influenced them, and they influenced in turn.

    I seriously reread this book every few months. On my newest readthrough at the moment actually.

  • Characteristics of Games by George Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, and K. Robert Gutschera.
    It’s a very in-depth book on the nuts and bolts of game theory and mechanics. It might not be video game a specific, but it attempts to create a vocabulary with which people can break down and analyze games. Very helpful for developers and critics, or anyone interested in understanding game theory. It definitely changed how I think about video games. Just be warned: it can be a pretty dry read since it’s basically a textbook.

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