Undoubtedly, one of the coolest things about having a Gaming blog is that it adds a veneer of legitimacy to what is, essentially, me being sat on my arse doing very little. It really is pretty freakin’ awesome that whenever somebody approaches me with some mundane task they want performing, I can raise an authoritative hand and offer up a ‘Sorry Sweetie/Mum/Person clearly in need of medical attention, I’d honestly love to help, really I would – but you see, I’m working‘, and – here’s the really cool bit – it actually being successful. I’m not saying there aren’t repercussions further down the line – because there can be – but it’s pretty useful in the short-term, and there’s a power inherent in that ‘working’ that both surprised and delighted me.

Having discovered such a perk, I obviously wasn’t about to let it go unexploited, and I set about going to town with that shit. Basically, I’ve found that as long as there’s some connection to Gaming/blogging, no matter how tenuous, it seems I’m pretty much golden, and (after a few initial expletives) I’m mostly left in peace. That’s a rather long-winded way of explaining why I’m now offering up to you, Dear Reader, QTX’s first ever book review, which, because it’s a book about Gaming, *totes* fell under the magical powers of the ‘unlucky, find someone else to lift something heavy/reach a high shelf/call you an ambulance, I’m working!’ type dismissal. Boo, and indeed, Yah; peace and quiet for James!

So, anyway…..Death By Video Game: Tales of obsession from the virtual frontline, by Simon Parkin.

Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin

The first thing to note about Death by Video Game is that it has a fairly misleading title and actually, to paraphrase Lionel Hutz, it’s possibly the worst case of misrepresentation since the so-called NeverEnding Story. You’d even be forgiven for thinking this was a Daily Mail/FOX News piece of sensationalism, wherein some person who’s never played a First-Person-Shooter in their life screams some variation of ‘Please….won’t somebody think of the children!?’ for 400 pages, but it’s actually not. At all.

Whilst Parkin begins the book by examining a few cases of gamers who’ve died after extended sessions in front of a computer/TV screen, he merely uses them as a springboard (not literally, obviously), and sets off on a mission to explore just what it is about games that makes them so compelling. Parkin’s a Video Game journalist, so he knows his onions, and that exploration is fairly comprehensive as a result, and contrary to what that title might suggest, he’s actually more often than not in the gamer’s corner.

In fact, what Parkin does – quite successfully in my opinion – is to both expand upon some of the soundbite criticism thrown at Games (i.e. they’re addictive, but here’s why they’re addictive…), and to explore why these kinds of “issues” aren’t always the a priori evils they’re portrayed as being. Given his knowledge (and obvious love) of the medium, he’s able to turn many of the criticisms of Games on their head, and it’s effective without being overly defensive or (counter)reactionary. As gamers, we’re used to – and very aware of – exactly these criticisms, and I’m sure most of us have, at some time or another, found ourselves addressing these very issues to a non-gamer, but I suspect I’ve not usually been as calm and measured as Parkin is in Death by Video Game.

In avoiding polemic, and in actually addressing issues as though they were valid (even if they’re obviously a load of old bollocks), his arguments are that bit more effective and, ultimately, more enlightening and palatable to people who may not fully understand gaming culture – and that’s to be applauded, I think. Whilst I’m happy to go for a sweary, angry counter-rant any day of the week, I’ll grudgingly admit that it often helps to have somebody like Parkin being slightly more measured and sympathetic on our side. Back when I reviewed Video Games: The Movie, I complained about this very thing for example, and glib retorts – however witty, or sweary, or true even – do very little to win over skeptics, and it’s commendable that Death by Video Game doesn’t just take the easy, preaching to the choir line of argument.

downloadIn the context of the book, it works particularly well too, because the aforementioned one-two punch of expanding upon and reversing criticism (but calmly and sympathetically) is often followed by a devastating finishing move of an ‘and actually, here’s some genuinely beneficial aspects of games you probably won’t have read about in the Daily Mail’ nature, and it’s just as effective as Sub-Zero ripping the spinal column right out of the ‘Ban all games, they’re all damaging our kids’ arguments. Essentially, this acts as a kind of ‘Not convinced? Still think all games are bad? OK, what about a game that encourages cooperation, or facilitates healing, etc, etc’ icing on the rhetorical cake, and, again, it’s particularly compelling. If I was critical, or suspicious of ‘games’ and ‘gaming’, I think I’d be at least inclined to add a qualifier like “some” in front of my criticism after reading Parkin’s examples of games achieving some genuinely commendable and worthwhile things. Sure we know that when people say “games” and “gamers” they’re extrapolating from a tiny, visible sample, and missing shitloads of other examples of both, but again, what the author does is highlight the problems of doing that in a way the people who might do it (or have done it) can clearly see and recognise.

And whilst there’s not necessarily anything stunningly original in terms of the subjects themselves (even I’ve stabbed out some clumsy proto-thoughts on some of the themes covered in the book), they’re delivered in a reasonably entertaining and readable way, which is another of Death by Video Game’s strengths. If you’ve ever read anything by Malcolm Gladwell, Jon Ronson or Michael Lewis, you’ll likely be reminded of them as each chapter zooms in and out from the general to the specific, takes interesting detours through anecdote and factlets and whatnot, before eventually coming full circle just in time to set up the next chapter. Again, it’s all eminently readable, and enjoyable, and entertaining, and I whizzed through the book in a few short hours.

And actually, it’s these little anecdotes, or tales from behind the scenes of gaming, or interesting side-journeys into gaming lore that will appeal to the majority of readers who are themselves gamers. There’s loads of little vignettes that’ll amuse and delight gamers – of all kinds – and there’ll likely be plenty of times you’ll find yourself reading about a particular game you’ve played (and loved) and nodding along as Parkin nails the reasons why it was great. There really was a lot to like if games have been a significant part of your life, and if you intend for them to be a part of your future.

friday-the-13th-death-screen-NESAnd that’s the book in a nutshell really. With its intricate blending of nostalgia, research, anecdote, fact, and loving defence of the medium we all value, most gamers will enjoy Death by Video Game, and most gamers will find something interesting in it, I suspect. Whether it’s just to refresh your arsenal for the next time you’re dragged into a ‘Video Games, what do you get out of those things?’ type discussion, or you just want to read a well-written ode to the medium – past, present and future – Death by Video Game is well worth the cost of admission. As a general rule, I’m often reluctant to recommend books, but if you’re reading this I’ma guess you’re the kind of person who likes reading about stuff to do with games, so, really, that’s pretty much the kind of key demographic targeting shizzle that Google sold out for, so, actually, I will recommend it.

Also, exactly 85.65% of people make a ‘read more’ resolution at New Year, so if you’re not one of the other 14.35%, this’ll help you get on that shit, right!? Then, if you do read it, you can come back here, discuss it in the comments, and the next time people start giving us crap about being gamers, we can be all like ‘well, actually, I’m part of a book club too, so shove your sanctimonious gamer-bashing up your arse’.

Or, alternatively, you could use any of the infinitely more eloquent arguments contained in Death by Video Game. I mean, it’s your call, really.