Extra Lives


I then realized I was contrasting my aesthetic sensitivity to that of some teenagers about a game that concerns itself with shooting as many zombies as possible.  It is moments like this that can make it so dispritingly difficult to care about video games. ~author Tom Bissell

I’ve been an adventure game addict since I bought my first computer back in the Dark Ages of 1982-the game that hooked me was Infocom’s Zork.  My latest video game love is The Witcher 2, an adventure game with a lot
more fighting and running than puzzling and thinking.  I still find myself completely wrapped up in the world where Geralt of Rivia does his magic/swordplay/ploughing.

Extra Lives:Why Video Games Matter talks about games I have never played and never had any interest in playing-Halo 3 and Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3 and the like.  For the most part these are games that I have heard of, but not games that spoke to me.  I think I got burned out on mass killing
games way back in the DOOM days and I have never given the newer breed a
try.  I’m not even that fond of all the killing in The Witcher 2, but there is a certain satisfaction that come from winning a battle that was flat out impossible to win the first five or ten times that I tried it.

Still, I can relate to a lot of what Tom Bissell has to say about Video Games.  They are a kind of art form and at the same time, they are totally pointless.  He talks about the different kinds of games and the popular elements that each game design team steals from other games.

I soon found myself ticking off all the bits and pieces he talks about that are part and parcel of the Witcher 2-all the many elements that were stolen from other games.  I also agree with him about hating the repetitive actions all video games live and die on-finding things, stealing things, dropping things, needing the thing you dropped later, and how even the biggest game world still have forced limits that an addicted player will run up against.

I liked Extra Lives right up until the end, where he talks about his addiction to Grand Theift Auto IV and his simultaneous addiction to cocaine.  As a general rule I like my writers to stay in the background, even though I occasionally like to intrude upon the reader myself.  And for the most part, Tom Bissell is a reporter, he interviews game designers, visits software corporate offices, and gives details about the game play of the many games that he has played and fallen in love with.  But when he spins off into the world of drug use and how much better both cocaine and GTA IV are when used together, it rings an off key note for me.  I suddenly don’t trust a writer who admits to having spent months playing a video game while stoned off his gourd.

At the end of Extra Lives I suddenly had serious doubts about just about everything Tom Bissell has said.  Did he use other drugs while playing other games?  Is that why the experience of the gameworld was so intense for him?  Is that why he could play a single title for over two hundred hours and then take a perverse pride in the fact?  Since a good deal of the book is Tom sharing his opinions and offer up his judgements, can a man who lived to snort coke and play Grand Theft Auto IV be said to have any judgement worth listening to?

The rarified world of video game companies and the countless drones that crank them out is an interesting one-and one that has made a lot of geeks über rich.  Now I need to look for a book about the industry not written by a cokehead, if there is such a thing.

Jon Herrera

Jon Herrera

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.
Jon Herrera

Latest posts by Jon Herrera (see all)

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.

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