• : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/gturner/public_html/content/themes/tng_v4/comment.tpl.php on line 31.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/gturner/public_html/content/themes/tng_v4/comment.tpl.php on line 31.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/gturner/public_html/content/themes/tng_v4/comment.tpl.php on line 31.

Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels (Literature)

April 3, 2006 By Glenn Turner

Since Pong hit the pubs, video games have become part of the general public's consciousness. Weaseled somewhere in-between film and carnival rides, it's hard to find someone whose mind hasn't been affected in one way or another by video games, regardless of whether they last picked up a gamepad yesterday or ten years ago or if they've played one game or as many as 2000. Inside every person who has sauntered through an arcade, played an adventure game or logged online to hash through a MUD, there's a story about gaming that is unique and definitively theirs, and if you asked 24 people to write down these experiences , you'd have a collection of gaming memoirs like those amassed in Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels.

In Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels, Shanna Compton has assembled a blend of personal essays on the subject of gaming. Giving her contributors, a collection of (like the sub-title indicates) artists, writers and programmers, freedom to write about what they think about video games, each fire back with widely differing reports on the subject. Some go the academic route, such as Mark Lamoureux's examination of Atari 2600 game sprites as primitive folk art. Some take an introspective turn, recounting how games affected them when they were but young pups, as Joseph Housely does with his tale of his first Nintendo Entertainment System. There are even those who search for the gaming memoirs in others, which Daniel Nester records in his account of Todd Rogers' career as a video game high-score jockey.

Out of the two dozen essays, one of the most poignant is that from Whitney Pastorek's. In an attempt to replay the games of her formative years, she hunts down a Macintosh SE and a copy of Dark Castle, and then reports the following:

"I wanted the real thing, I wanted to play it on the nine-inch screen of my brand new ancient Macintosh, and so I ... took the floppy out into the living room where the SE was sitting on the coffee table, put the disk in the drive, put "Straight Up" in the CD player on repeat, used the square tacky mouse to click on the little castle icon and:

crackk! duh-nuh nuuuuh... duhnuhnuhnuh nuh-nuh. crrackk! crrackk! duh-nuh nuuuuh... duh-nuhnuhnuh nuh-nuh.

And I started to cry."

It's a bold example as to just how much of an impression a video game can make on our minds, how the process of playing a game becomes that of reliving nostalgia instead of merely reflecting upon it. Ms. Pastorek's trip down memory lane is explicitly by the sights and sounds of this game from her youth, a game that stirs up long-buried emotions and feelings. It's a powerful essay, one that exemplifies the power of playing games as opposed to less-interactive mediums.

For some of the contributors, games are recounted in an almost sinister light. Luis Jaramillo discusses how, despite his peaceful nature and numerous sour real-life hunting experiences, he was pulled into the world of simulated deer hunting in Big Buck Hunter II. In Stroke This Thomas Kelley muses over the high and lows of his Golden Tee addiction, ultimately writing it off 'like enjoying Foghat when you were younger', and poet J. Brandon Housley illustrates his childhood Nintendo Entertainment System as the epicenter of his deteriorating family. In each essay, it's rather obvious that the writers enjoyed their brief time with video games but, due to external or internal forces, felt pressures to drop them like a hot potato. This sense of game-inspired shame is a reoccurring theme in many essays, from Bill Spratch's musings on the prevalence of cheating in video games to Aaron McCollough's guilt-ridden time spent playing Madden NFL, more than a few of the contributors feel that there's a slight embarrassment to be had with video play. Some authors are able to justify it and continue playing but others, like Thomas Kelley, write it off as an impressionistic passing fancy and move onto their next fancy. Regardless of how they cope with their constructed onus, video games undoubtedly made a severe and lasting impression on them, one that's hard to quantify or compare to other mediums, but is nonetheless grandly illustrated in this book.

That effort towards trying to explain the allure and experiential power of video games is what makes Gamers worth reading. The variety of stories from these (mostly) casual players has real insight into what attracts people to video games, why some people persist in playing them, why some people cut them out of their life and how people reflect on them. The bulk of the essays are simple tales that strike deeply at what's important about video games, about the experience of playing a game and about how it affects the player both while they're playing and away from the game. Better yet, the road to these insights is concise and artfully drawn as most of the pieces are well-drawn and constructed, especially the interest piece on high-score record holder Todd Rogers. While the piece could have come off as a mocking & muggish article, it choses to not deride his somewhat askew accomplishments and ultimately is a fascinating and revealing portraiture of a very driven man.

In fact, if there's any complaint to be leveled at the book, it's that of its typography. The chapter header font is a pseudo-pixel font that, while it recalls nicely the typography of older video games, it contains spacing that often makes the chapter titles practically illegible. For instance, the title 'Virtual Interludes' ends up reading like 'Urtual Interlwdes', thanks to the horrid kerning and all-too-subtle differences between similar characters (such as U and V). While it has little impact on the pieces themselves, it certainly is a problematic issue throughout the book, as you shouldn't have to guess what the exact title of the essay is.

Despite that, Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels is a varied and insightful account of many casual gamers reflections on video games. These are stories straight from the players, not from the critics, reviewers, game theorists, or other overly-exposed game enthusiasts, and these stories indicate how video games will be perceived and received as time passes on. Gamers, through its multi-facets viewpoints, showcases how and why games have lasted in the public consciousness and, for that, it's well worth space on your bookshelf.

Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels, edited by Shanna Compton, is available to purchase from Soft Skull Press

Digg this article Save to del.icio.us Filled under:

3 comments for ‘Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels (Literature)’

#1 jt-3d Apr 3, 2006 06:44pm

If I had time to read books, I'd like to read this one. Anybody want to buy it and read it to me over the internet?

#2 w3a2 Apr 4, 2006 03:43am

no, but you can buy it and send it to me and i'll read it to me though.

sounds like an interesting book to read. i shall hunt a copy down locally i think

#3 eibboh Apr 4, 2006 04:34am

Only $10 at Amazon or Half, I might have to add this to my next order.