The Comic Book Story Of Video Games: The Incredible History Of The Electronic Gaming Revolution, by Jonathan Hennessey, art by Jack McGowan
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/10 Speed Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Those who are readers of my reviews are well aware of my interest in video games . Since childhood I have played on pc and console a wide variety of games, from sidebar action and adventure games to first person shooting to turn based strategy to various types of role playing games and casual city-building games and historical simulations. Yet as fond as I am of playing games, I am also intrigued at the larger cultural forces related to them, and their influence on the behavior of people. For example, the ubiquity of video games as a form of escapism for people whose lives are not particularly exciting or necessarily productive is certainly a worrisome contemporary trend, and one does not have to be Lana Del Ray or a posturing politician to see how video games have long had an ambivalent role in contemporary society as well as the future, and to its credit this book gives that ambivalence full voice.
With a nonlinear storytelling style and a love for both iconic games as well as colorful characters, this particular book of nearly 200 pages is definitely a worthwhile read for those who are interested in the history of video games and their complicated origins. This book is divided into a ten chapters, beginning with the inventions that led to the development of cathode ray tubes, then looking at the earliest obscure video games, the development of transistors, and the influence of the Cold War. After this the author examines the heyday of Atari and the golden age of arcade games in the early 1980’s, before a glut of poorly produced games helped lead to a crash that nearly destroyed the video gaming industry in the United States. The book ends with a look at pc gaming, the power of Nintendo, and the contemporary age of gaming in all of its complexity. The authors weave stories of people and companies and games, and manage to come up with some interesting insights. Wisely, the author ends this book with a series of thoughtful and serious questions that demonstrate their humility and their unwillingness to attempt to prophesy about the future given the limited state and poor track record of those who have done so.
The insights and patterns that the author finds concerning video games are truly remarkable. There is, for example, a longstanding tension between engineers and programmers, between patriotic and countercultural appeals, between games as social and humanitarian and antisocial in nature, between the desire of artists to tell stories and creative people to take new directions and the desire of companies to copy existing trends and make a quick buck off of entertainment. The author’s discussion of some figures of video gaming demonstrate that a lot of these people are outsiders and fairly marginal people who happen to have been inspired by the potential of video games and possessed of the requisite skills in programming and storytelling and graphic design to create games that end up influencing the world because they provide a voice to others and something that appeals to our own longings. In many ways, this is a sprawling and complex narrative that demonstrates that many of the people who were important in creating the world of video games that we know of were people who are deserving of our respect, but in many cases also our sympathy, and in some cases our concern.
 See, for example: