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Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter | [Tom Bissell]

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Tom Bissell is a prizewinning writer who published three widely acclaimed books before the age of 34. He is also an obsessive gamer who has spent untold hours in front of his various video game consoles, playing titles such as Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, BioShock, and Oblivion for, literally, days. If you are reading this copy, the same thing can probably be said of you, or of someone you know.
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Publisher's Summary

Tom Bissell is a prizewinning writer who published three widely acclaimed books before the age of 34. He is also an obsessive gamer who has spent untold hours in front of his various video game consoles, playing titles such as Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, BioShock, and Oblivion for, literally, days. If you are reading this copy, the same thing can probably be said of you, or of someone you know.

Until recently, Bissell was somewhat reluctant to admit to his passion for games. In this, he is not alone. Millions of adults spend hours every week playing video games, and the industry itself now reliably outearns Hollywood. But the wider culture seems to regard video games as, at best, well designed (if mindless) entertainment.

Extra Lives is an impassioned defense of this assailed and misunderstood art form. Bissell argues that we are in a golden age of gaming—but he also believes games could be even better. He offers a fascinating and often hilarious critique of the ways video games dazzle and, just as often, frustrate. Along the way, we get firsthand portraits of some of the best minds (Jonathan Blow, Clint Hocking, Cliff Bleszinski, Peter Molyneux) at work in video-game design today, as well as a shattering and deeply moving final chapter that describes, in searing detail, Bissell’s descent into the world of Grand Theft Auto IV, a game whose themes mirror his own increasingly self-destructive compulsions.

Blending memoir, criticism, and first-rate reportage, Extra Lives is like no other book on the subject. Whether you love video games, loathe video games, or are merely curious about why they are becoming the dominant popular art form of our time, Extra Lives is required listening.

©2010 Tom Bissell (P)2010 Random House

What the Critics Say

"A scintillating meditation on the promise and discontents of video games....Bissell excels both at intellectual commentary and evocative reportage on the experience of playing games...If anyone can bridge the aesthetic chasm between readers and gamers, he can." (Publishers Weekly)

"Bissell explores not just his own affection for video games but also the games themselves. What separates good games from bad? Where do video games fit on the sliding scale of art?....Not just for gamers, the book should also appeal to readers who have some serious questions about the nature and impact of video games." (Booklist)

“Bissell successfully dissects key aspects of the medium with razor-sharp sense and artfully crafted analysis. A thought-provoking, thorough, and ultimately personal study of the industry and its denizens.”(Cliff Bleszinski, design director, Epic Games)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (252 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 07-02-10
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 07-02-10 Member Since 2005
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    "Ever Wonder about Video Games?"

    First, I am not a gamer. Second, I try to find books that inform me about subjects unfamiliar. This book will inform and excite those seeking to understand the attraction of games. It will inform people with family members and friends who spend hours, in the dark, competing with others on-line.

    The book combines gaming history, psychology of gamers, programming, and the development of gaming as an art form.

    The book is wonderfully written and read by Tom Bissel. It will keep the interest of anyone who listens.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Geoffrey Pleasantville, NY, United States 06-28-10
    Geoffrey Pleasantville, NY, United States 06-28-10
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    "Interesting, even for a novice..."

    With the exception of a handful of hours at Goldeneye and Super Mario Galaxy, I haven't played video games since the days of the SNES. Sometime last year, I saw what kids these days were playing and was quite frankly was scared. Not because of the super violence in them. But because the apparent limitless entertainment possibilities of them seemed to threaten my business - movies - with obsoleteness. I've been looking for a book about video game aesthetics and with this I finally found it. The narration is personal and casual - making me wish that more authors did their own narration instead of hiring "professionals".

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Roseville, CA, United States 08-25-11
    Scott Roseville, CA, United States 08-25-11 Member Since 2007
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    "Video Gaming - Far more than just virtual bullets"

    This book is a refreshing look at game design from a player's perspective. The author rightly points out that gaming critique now is now solely limited to whether a new game is entertaining enough to be worth spending some money. If you've enjoyed any PC or console game for dozens of hours you've wondered why is this particular form of game play so uniquely fun? The author explores the answers using many major titles (but will invariably miss some of your personal favorites). He confesses a bias for console games (a controller over a keyboard) as an avid PC gamer I found the distinction not pertinent to book's themes. He poses many excellent questions: What is the nature of storytelling in a video game? How much and what impact do good writers have on a story? Should the game's story drive the player or should the game design allow the player to drive the story? What are the possibilities of open-ended story telling? (as opposed to cut scenes/cinematics) which the author and game designers view as limiting at best. He describes major titles, so one can understand the features that were overlooked by above mentioned limited critical perspective. This includes a notorious car jacking series (which I've smugly avoided as trashy) describing the many details of the extraordinarily rich virtual world it creates. Another recent gaming flop, the latest in the an FPS series set in landlocked Africa, instead of its previous tropical setting, (the latest panned by many as poor) is described for its completely unscripted physics and unique character/NPC interaction. He covers the skills to needed to complete the now outdated 2D scrolling games (i.e. why they were so fun in their day) but mainly describes role playing & shooter games as well as few obscure but completely unique and award winning games. If you haven't explored every single last major video game franchise at the very least you'll learn of new unique gaming experiences to be had.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Saud United States 07-21-10
    Saud United States 07-21-10 Member Since 2007

    Learn, understand, then decide whether you accept or reject.

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    "Preaching to the Converted"

    Tom Bissell's many hours on Grand Theft Auto, as well as hanging out with various game celebrities, shows a lot of passion in this production.

    I was able to easily grasp at what he's saying, since I'm a gamer. However, I think from the perspective of a non-gaming reader, there is a lot that is lost in translation.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aaron Clinton, IA, USA 07-09-10
    Aaron Clinton, IA, USA 07-09-10
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    "Gamer or Not, Must Listen"

    Extra Lives is an incredibly interesting account of the authors personal experience with video games. It's not quite what I expected, but it was incredibly enjoyable.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua VENICE, CA, United States 12-20-13
    Joshua VENICE, CA, United States 12-20-13 Member Since 2005

    Game developer and VFX industry vet.

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    "A gaming autobiography"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    No, the book is too esoteric for the people I know who aren't gamers and honestly a little "noob" for the people I do know as gamers(I being one of them). The author does a great job enumerating the point by point play of the games he does talk about, but sometimes it feels like that's all he is doing.


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    The book ends as it starts, someone flat.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Probably doing coke playing GTA. This is also my least favorite since it introduces his drug problem into the narrative. I understand this is personal to him but its way off topic.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    The author is talented, a good writer and some might enjoy this book. As a gamer and former game industry employee I just didn't find that his personal story stirred anything in my soul the way books like "Of Dice and Men" did and thats not even about video games. The book is well written but simply not that interesting unless you have a history with the games he likes and nothing else.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    xterrian prairieville, LA, United States 02-26-13
    xterrian prairieville, LA, United States 02-26-13 Member Since 2011
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    "A great look at modern gaming"
    Would you listen to Extra Lives again? Why?

    Yes because the personal side to this book made me think of my own past inner turmoils of being a gamer.


    What about Tom Bissell’s performance did you like?

    It sounded genuine instead of someone over pronouncing every word like in other audio books I've listen to.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The part about GTA & the comparison to his own life.


    Any additional comments?

    I hope he writes another gaming book because I enjoyed this one.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Canada 07-04-12
    Robert Canada 07-04-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Love from a Gamer"

    Tom Bissell is engaging and fascinating as he guides you through both the gaming industry in general and his personal experience with gaming. As a gamer who enjoys stories in games, this book was everything I was hoping for and more.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wade T. Brooks Portland, OR, USA 06-25-12
    Wade T. Brooks Portland, OR, USA 06-25-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Engaging and fun but light on substance."

    Engaging and fun but light on substance. If you have ever played any of the current run FPS/RPG (First Person Shooter/Role Playing Games) games you might really enjoy it, i.e. Left 4 Dead, Modern Warfare 2, etc. I don't play FPS games but Bissell is an excellent writer and makes some interesting points about how games work/don't work, and their importance in the entertainment industry alongside movies and TV. Noticeably absent from his analysis are the MMORPGS (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games) such as World of Warcraft and Everquest, which are significantly different in scope and would have made an interesting counterpoint.

    The end of the book follows a dark turn in Bissels life related to drug use and playing GTA (Grand Theft Auto) and although the title of the book might lead you to believe it's kid friendly let me assure you it's not.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Steve Garland, TX, United States 11-05-13
    Steve Garland, TX, United States 11-05-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Poorly titled book"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    If you like video game review anthologies, this is your book.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    The interviews with game designers were interesting, but I didn't expect and was uninterested in the psychoanalytical self examination that is the other main aspect of the book.


    Which character – as performed by Tom Bissell – was your favorite?

    There is only one character in the book, since it's basically autobiographical; the author. Yet he's still not my favorite.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Extra Lives?

    I'd cut out all the left wing political statement nonsense.


    Any additional comments?

    This book will absolutely NOT give an argument of any substance for why video games matter. If anything it will give an implicit argument that they are equally as ephemeral as the different other drugs the author describes using in the book. I believe they do matter, but no self referential indulgent blather can possibly argue for that belief.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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