I learned about Tom Bissell and the publication of his book Extra Lives by listening to Michael Abbott and his “Brainy Gamer” podcast. In June’s episode, Abbott spent the majority of the episode interviewing Bissell about the idea of video game criticism in general and writing the book in specific. Since reading “The Lester Bangs of Video Games” by Chuck Klosterman in Esquire in 2006, I have quietly tried to see if any authentic voice has risen to the challenge. Have we finally found a voice that specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like? Or provides meaningful analysis of what a game mean in a context outside of the game itself?
But to continue down an overly-long prelude about the book, I feel obligated to note that I am interested in Abbott for more than just his attempt to answer Klosterman — if that was Abbott was trying to do in the first place. No, what really captured my interest in Abbottis the fact that he is a Theater professor at my alma mater, Wabash College. In the Fall of 2008, Wabash Magazine published a profile on Abbott highlighting his Brainy Gamer work and the Center for Inquiry. In August of this year, Wabash posted the profile online. I suspect this may, in part, be in reaction to the Abbott’s inclusion of Portal as a text in his freshmen seminar. The blogosphere suffered a few minutes of apoplexy in response before being distracted by Halo: Reach. (Then again, the profile could also have been posted in anticipation of a second feature in the Fall 2010 edition of Wabash Magazine. Abbott is writing this second piece to discuss his experiences with Brainy Gamer. — Nah, it was about the press.)
Okay, now that I have digressed rather far afield, let me get back to the topic at hand, namely the book Extra Lives by Tom Bissell. Well, maybe not. I mean, I’ve given you enough leads to start your own discussion about the roles of video games in education, art, literature, entertainment, business and attention deficit disorder-derived hysteria. My work here is done. Besides, I’ve got a book to read.
Oscar Villalon writes in his review for NPR:
Parts memoir, criticism and reportage, freely mixing the high with the low, Extra Lives channels the author’s intimate history with games into something richer. At its simplest, the book charmingly informs us about the massive complexity and taxing labor entailed in producing a marquee title like Gears of War or Fable II. At its finest, Bissell’s book is a thrilling attempt at providing a critical framework for understanding and judging video games. [….] Lauding the medium’s great achievements and sharing his irritation with its longstanding flaw, Bissell makes a convincing case that video games are inching toward art, if not some mind-bending realm. Extra Lives, thanks to its insight and passion, may well end up providing one great push toward that end.