Five Great Books About Video Game Culture

Five Great Books About Video Game Culture

Probably my favourite hobby next to playing video games is reading about people who love and design them. And I’m not talking licensed-by-Nintendo glory stories about CEOs overcoming their mistrust of Crash Bandicoot to make millions — I’m talking books about the rest of us, lovers on MMORPGs, struggling indie devs, self-hating gaming addicts, virtuous guild leaders, gold scammers and 10-year-old girls plugging in their first console. From In Real Life, illustrated by Jen Wang

Books populating the “gaming” section of bookstores often expand on lore or art, all in the service of boosting a franchise’s cred and pleasing its fans. These books are great, but I want to talk about the ones that are more critical of, or at least thoughtful about, the industry and its enthusiasts. Below are my top five books on gaming culture. Add yours in the comments!

Five Great Books About Video Game Culture

The Proteus Paradox by Nick Yee

Author Nick Yee is a virtual worlds sociologist, which is the coolest job ever (he now works at Quantic Foundry). The Proteus Paradox expands on his groundbreaking “Daedalus Project“, for which he collected stories and data from over 35,000 MMORPG players over five years. In it, MMORPG fans describe falling in love online, gender-bending avatars and gaming addiction from a personal standpoint. Against those anecdotes, Yee leverages data he collected to expand on trends in online role-playing. Yee’s research explores the IRL-URL barrier with unparalleled sensitivity and charisma, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the culture of MMORPGs.

Five Great Books About Video Game Culture

The Second Life Herald by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace

Ludlow and Wallace provide a glimpse into daily life on circa 2000s The Sims Online and Second Life by chronicling the day-to-day of their virtual newspaper, The Alphaville Herald. Setting up camp in a TSO gothic church in the early 2000s, Ludlow and Wallace’s paper churned out stories on scammers, virtual mafioso and cyber-brothels until, Ludlow alleges, it was shut down by higher powers. When the paper migrates to Second Life, that’s when chaos really ensues. I recommend this to anyone curious about the grim underbelly of virtual worlds and how to unearth it.

Five Great Books About Video Game Culture

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

This one’s a graphic novel, but its writing (a la Cory Doctorow) is superb. In Real Life follows a teenaged girl’s affair with the made-up MMO Coarsegold Online and, at the same time, with a mysterious Chinese gold farmer. Her struggle to assert her personhood and ethics in her fierce guild, as well as her grapple with the reality of virtual labour exploitation in China, is a challenging and inspiring story wrapped in some excellent art. I recommend this to, basically, everybody, but especially people interested in gold farming or being a young woman online.

Five Great Books About Video Game Culture

Women in Game Development, edited by Jennifer Brandes Hepler

Thankfully, sexism against women in the games industry is receiving ample coverage from mainstream media. But hearing it first-hand from female game developers, artists and journalists is striking: In the male-dominated field, women are regularly harassed, devalued and alienated, or even altogether deterred from engaging in games professionally at all. Women in Game Development showcases female games professionals like Brianna Wu, Megan Gaiser and Jane Ng who struggled (or struggle still) through imposter syndrome and incessant harassment. The book humanises the plight of these women, but also encourages us to celebrate their successes. I reviewed it last month and recommend the book to women considering games as a profession and to men in games who want to be allies.

Five Great Books About Video Game Culture

Videogames For Humans, edited by Merritt Kopas

Twine is changing video games whether you like it or not. Game developer (and A+ Twitter personality) Merritt Kopas and her roster of over two dozen devs and games writers delve into why this free-to-use, accessible game development platform is democratising the industry. The book memorialises Twine development as a movement slated to open up game design and writing to those traditionally more marginalised in the field. Kotaku’s own Riley MacLeod and Patricia Hernandez are contributors as well. I recommend this to gamers interested in writing and writers interested in gaming.


  • I own some of those glory stories. Care to mention exactly which ones were licensed by Nintendo?

    Console Wars by Blake J. Harris is less about SEGA America and what it had to deal with during the 80s and 90s than it is a pitch for a movie. It literally states it has to make up and assume stuff happened that may not have actually occurred.

    Women in Game Dev and Videogames for Humans both sound very good. Might have to track them down. I’m wondering when Kotaku AU will lift its game and review From Minecraft to Misogyny as well. Very hard to find that book locally so far.

    • console wars was a big let down for me, the dialogue between characters was comical at times in how poorly it was written and only getting SOA’s side of the story leaves you wondering how true things were as they always make out nintendo are the devil and SOJ is responsible for all SOA’s problems.

      Masters of doom was really good, i just finished that and they actually had both carmack and romero’s involvement and both of them aren’t made out to be heroes.

  • I can not recommend Masters Of Doom enough. Gets in to the highs and the lows, and never once portrays either Romero or Carmack as infallible, showing that both Johns had their strengths and their flaws. Even though I know how it goes, I still reread it at least twice a year.

  • I’ve got a copy of Game Over my dad randomly came home with once ages ago still sitting on the shelf. I know it’s been heavily discredited in the meantime, but still interested in seeing what it had to say.

  • I clicked on this betting that there would be an unsubtle women in gaming subtext. Bingo.

    • Journalists aren’t allowed to write opinion pieces that contain their opinions unless those opinions mirror mine!

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