I own a lot of books about video games. I paid almost $US125 for a used copy of Invasion of the Space Invaders, Martin Amis’s out-of-print confessional/tips-and-tricks book about the arcade age. I recently bought another out-of-print book from the 1980s, David Sudnow’s Pilgrim in the Microworld, which is a fascinating account of a pianist’s obsession with Breakout. I’m a subscriber to the excellent Boss Fight Books series.
So I say this from experience: There aren’t all that many good books about video games.
Pretty soon, however, there will be one more: Simon Parkin’s Death by Video Game comes out in the United States next week — on the Kindle, at least. (There will be a version released in print in the U.K., and eventually one will be published in the U.S. as well.) I read an advance copy this week.
The book does not really deliver on its promise to be “an investigation into a slew of deaths in which young men and, occasionally, women have been found dead at their keyboards,” but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Parkin takes the death of a Taiwanese man in an Internet cafe as the organising principle, rather, for a meditation on video games and their peculiar power over us.
Unlike most books about games, Death by Video Game is not mindless evangelism for the medium. Parkin takes seriously the notion that video games, or some aspects of them, might be bad for us. Yet he also takes video games seriously as a source of solace for a grieving parent or spouse, a safe form of indoor play for Iraqi children in Baghdad, and a helpful way, like any other form of fiction, for humanity to avoid staring too directly at our certain deaths.
Plus, if I hadn’t read it, I wouldn’t have known that Desert Golfing, the fascinating and bleak you-can’t-ever-restart mobile game, was inspired by the desire of its designer, Justin Smith, to be able to golf inside thatgamecompany’s Journey.
Disclosure: I am in the acknowledgments of Death by Video Game because a few paragraphs of an essay by Parkin that I edited, for Medium’s New York Review of Video Games, ended up in the book. And Parkin, who has written about video games for the Guardian, Eurogamer, NewYorker.com, and the Awl, among other places, has also written on occasion for Kotaku.