You might be surprised by the number of books about video games. I certainly was when I started reviewing them. It’s hard to find them sometimes, and it can be even harder to separate the good from the bad.
With that in mind, I grabbed ten of my favorite books. I excluded the guidebooks, Boss Fight Books series, and other books that I’ve covered in other blog posts. I did think because I didn’t want any overlap between the lists. The guidebooks were excluded because they deserve their own lists.
These books cover history, social issues, and talks about the video game industry. Each of them was a pleasure to read. Some brought up some nostalgia for me. I watched the subject of one of these books unfold, and reading the book brought me back.
I would recommend each of these books! Let’s get into them.
Lost in a Good Game by Pete Etchells
This book turned into something that I wasn’t expecting it to be. When I started reading this, I thought it would be about Pete’s personal experiences with video games. These usually are my favorite type of books. They sometimes make you reflect on your own experiences. Pete does this, and he also gives some great insight into social issues surrounding video games from a psychological point of view.
Pete Etchells is a psychologist and a science writer. He puts a lot of studies on video games in perspective for the reader. He also says he doesn’t have all the answers, which is important. One person can’t answer all of the questions about violence in video games, gaming or internet addiction, or the impact of technology on people.
The big thing I took away from this book is that more research is needed before having a definitive answer. I feel it’s important to mention this. There hasn’t been a consensus on how video games can make us feel, and people can experience the same game in many different ways.
The first and the third chapters were very interesting. They talk about death, loss, and horror video games. How video games make us feel is a big part of these chapters. I’m not doing them justice here, though. What they do is set up things which Pete revisits later on.
What made this book stand out for me was the talk of moral panics and the problems with psychological studies. This book greatly influenced how I read other books and view video game history. It was like a missing puzzle piece for me.
Pete brings up how bias creeps into studies, the peer review process, and how things can impact your study or article about the study. This was something I could relate to. I’ve been in sessions with an editor who didn’t understand the project, and it was up to me to protect it. That might sound crazy, but things can drastically change in the editing process.
Reading through this book me a strange mix of nostalgia and information about psychology. It might not be for everyone, but it was one of the more readable books about the effect of video games on people.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier
I thought about putting Jason’s other book, Press Reset, on this list instead of this one. I decided to go with this one because it was the better book. They’re very similar, but this one felt like it was more interesting.
The major takeaway from Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is that no two video games are made the same way. This was very interesting to me. One would expect some commonly used tools, that engines were similar enough, or that they could do what they did last time.
This book made me think more about how video games were made. I don’t know much about coding, so reading this was fascinating. I had read stories about crunch before, so that wasn’t new, but hearing about so many instances of it and its different causes was fascinating.
I felt bad about thinking a game was bad. It didn’t stop me from thinking that way, but it added a few caveats to that thinking. Like there must be a deeper meaning as to why things are the way they are. The book also reinforced some of my feelings towards the larger publishers.
There is a nice contrast in the book with examples of both indie and AAA developers being looked at. It did raise a few questions about the industry for me. Mostly about the trends in video games, why studios think only some games will be successful, are there still medium-sized publishers and developers, and it made me want to find out more about indie games.
While reading this book, I asked a bunch of questions. Most of them centered around the subject of Fun. Thanks to this book, I started to ask why a lot more. It also made me look at the video game industry differently and impacted how I review games.
The Dragon Quest Book by Austin King
This was the excellent Dragon Quest book I read. I’m not going to talk about the other book because I don’t want to relive that experience. This book was fantastic! It does have some inaccuracies, but they aren’t the book’s focus.
This is like a love letter to the fandom. Austin goes through each of the mainline games in the series while discussing how the games have impacted people. While he plays the mainline series, all of the numbered games, Austin explains his own experiences with Dragon Quest.
It felt like there were a few entry points for people over the years. You had people discovering the game on the PS2 and the Nintendo Power giveaway. I found this very interesting. Of course, there were others, but these two seemed to come up a lot. It made me think about how I got into the series.
I guess I can go on a bit of a tangent here. I didn’t know about the series until I started collecting games in high school. I had played Final Fantasy, Destiny of the Emperor, Phantasy Star, and Chrono Trigger. Dragon Quest wasn’t really on my radar. A friend who knew way more about video games told me about it. I thought it was okay when I first played it; I liked it when I went back a few years ago.
Back to the book! About half of the book gets into the fan base and the stories of the different people that Austin met over the years. I liked this because you can see how similar people’s stories are. It’s like each of us shares something special. Each story might vary slightly, but there is a passion behind it that is cool.
I have a problem with the book, and it’s one I have with the Dragon Quest fandom. They seem to think Dragon Quest was the first JRPG. It wasn’t. Black Onyx came before it, and two other games came out before Dragon Quest. I agree with you if you say it’s the first one on a home console. However, it wasn’t the first JRPG. Austin’s book doesn’t browbeat you with this, thankfully! It’s more of a celebration of the games and the fan base.
The Tetris Effect by Dan Ackerman
This is a great story! Dan explains Tetris’s incredibly complicated path to get into the Western market. He explains the history of the game and why it became so popular.
This is a fascinating story. You hear about how the game was made in the Soviet Union and was eventually licensed to Nintendo. I knew this story before getting into the book. I still enjoyed it because the story is so good!
This is an excellent option if you want to know more about the Tetris story and don’t want to look through the book Game Over!
Masters of Doom by David Kushner
If you’re like me, then you heard about this awesome game on the playground when you were in elementary school. I think I was nine or ten at the time. Doom was something different. My family had gotten a computer around that time, and my brother and I were getting into computer games.
At first, we only had a few. Dune 2 and Tie Fighter were the only games I played on the computer. Our NES had broken down at this time, and I didn’t have any other console. Eventually, a friend of mine gave me the shareware version of Doom. Enough backstory about my experience with the game; let’s talk about the book!
Kushner takes us through the story of id Software and the company’s founders. This was a little strange for me to read about. I didn’t know about all of the stuff going on behind the games, and hearing about it made me a little sad. Id Software was a big part of my childhood, and to hear about how the founders slowly drifted apart was sad.
I liked hearing how they all came together and made Wolfenstein and Doom. This was in the early days of computer games when you had kids who grew up in the arcades, taught themselves how to code, and ended up working for a crappy company before starting on their own.
Their story isn’t unique, but the success and the style of games they made were notable for a time. There were a few stories in here I didn’t know at the time, like how Sierra Online almost bought id Software. In hindsight, I’m glad that they didn’t.
This is an older book. It only covers up to the early 2000s, so a lot of history isn’t in there. After this book, I recommend reading Rocket Jump by David Craddock if you want to fill in some of the gaps in the story.
Moral Combat by Patrick Markey and Christopher Ferguson
This book talks a lot about how video games have been portrayed over the years. It’s a response to the moral panics on video game violence. They bring up the outrage over Death Race, Mortal Kombat, and other times that video games were blamed for violence in the US.
They do an excellent job of talking about the different studies used to make people think video games were harmful. I believe this is one of the few books that puts the argument in a way that we can understand. I’ve read a few books on both sides of the debate. This and Lost in a Good Game do the best of countering the argument against video games.
The big thing I learned from this was that these moral panics were nothing new. Every time that was a new form of media, there would be outrage over it. The story about the town that banned video games was fascinating. I didn’t know about the efforts of the small towns to ban games. Mostly I just heard about the Federal government and the issues in the late 90s and early 2000s.
This is an excellent book. It goes along with David Kushner’s book Jacked and other books about the effect of video games.
Gaming the Iron Curtain by Jaroslav Svelch
This interesting book looked at the origins of the computer and video game industry in Czechoslovakia. I know the country split, but this covers a period when the two were still one country. Except for Tetris, I didn’t know much about the history of video games in Eastern Europe. This filled me in on some things, but I wanted to learn more.
Gaming the Iron Curtain covers the 80s and 90s in Czechoslovakia. We can assume the other countries in the Warsaw Pact would have similar experiences. It makes me wonder what the differences were at the time. I think it would be interesting to look at someday.
Jaroslav does an excellent job of explaining how the government’s planned economy caused issues with the computer industry. It caused shortages of consumer goods and made it hard to import computers and the parts needed to make them. You had several Ministries working against each other, which didn’t help either. Because of this, people turned to the black market to bring in what they wanted.
The government only saw computers as a way to boost the economy. They didn’t see them as being used for anything else. This caused a disconnect in what was made and how it was marketed. The whole thing sounded like a mess, and, amazingly, the industry sprung up despite all of it.
Most of the designs were based on UK microcomputers on the black market. There were also some Atari and Commodore computers as well. Most of the Czechoslovakian designs were based on the ZX Spectrum. This was something I found very interesting.
The hobbyist market is also talked about. At first, I thought it was strange that these clubs were attached to paramilitary organizations. I shouldn’t have thought that, but it was just an initial reaction to reading this. These were government-approved clubs, so it makes sense.
I found this book to be great. There are more stories in it, but these were some highlights. Check this book out if you want to know more about this exciting part of computer history.
Smoke and Mirrors by Mike James
This book is on the Retro VGS/Coleco Chameleon and Mike Kennedy. It covers the different attempts that Mike Kennedy made to be a big shot in the Retro Game community. It was a bizarre time, and I’m glad I got to watch it unfold in real-time. There are a lot of parallels to the Intellivision Amico.
This book provides many answers to just what was going on during this fiasco. Some people refused to be interviewed for it, and with good reason. It’s not kind to the people directly involved with Mike Kennedy and his schemes.
It did change my mind about what was going on. I don’t think it was a scam in the beginning. I think Mike Kennedy wanted to make a console. He had a lot of ideas, too many ideas. He also didn’t have the drive to finish any of the projects he had started.
The story about the Classic Gaming Expo in 2014 was bizarre. Mike James (UKMike) put a lot of effort into it and asked Mike Kennedy to help. Other things were going on, but the Mike Kennedy parts are what I want to focus on. This was an example of Mike Kennedy blowing off his friends to promote himself and his ventures. He does this a lot during the time. He was ignoring everything in the pursuit of fame.
The two things that seemed to have turned Mike Kennedy into a compulsive liar and a scammer are the Coleco Chameleon and Retro Magazine. Neither venture was managed well, and the Chameleon was where things just imploded for him.
UKMike does an excellent job of laying all of this out. I wish all the parties involved had been willing to participate, but that was probably too much for them. You can learn a lot from this book, and I wish a specific person had read it before starting their retro-style console.
Zap: The Rise and Fall of Atari by Scott Cohen
This book gives a nice and simple rundown of Atari’s financial situation in 1983. This book was written in 1984, and many of the facts weren’t known at the time. It doesn’t take away from the book, but keep that in mind if you want to pick this one up.
The book appears to be divided up into three parts. The first isn’t that relevant to the story. It covers the history of Silicon Valley. The second part is where the bulk of the information is. It explains what was going on at Atari from its founding until 1983. The third part talks about what Nolan Bushnell has been up to since leaving Atari.
There is a heavy emphasis on the financials, the clashing cultures, and how Warner and Ray Kassar slowly ran the company into the ground. It’s not kind to Warner. There is talk of how confusing the situation was at Atari and how the rest of Warner was somehow worse.
This book also talks about some of the lawsuits that Atari filed against the rest of the industry. They were suing everyone. I wish he went into the lawsuits more, but the financials were the focus here.
I think this is an excellent book to help you understand the issues at Atari in the early 80s. I wish there was an updated edition, but I’m guessing Scott didn’t want to do that.
Joystick Nation by J.C. Herz
This book covers video game history from 1961 to 1996. I hadn’t heard much about this book. I also wasn’t paying much attention to books about video games in the 90s or the 2000s. I think this should be held up with books like Game Over, Replay, and All Your Base Belong to Us.
This isn’t just a history book. It has interviews and J.C.’s reflections on playing video games as a kid. Not all of the things she says are correct, but that has to do with when the book was written. They didn’t know everything thing we know now.
I do like how she goes through arcade game history. You get the sense these games meant more to her than other games. She spent a decent amount of time in the arcades. She also talks about arcade history and how the arcade had evolved over the decades.
I enjoyed this book. It was an easy read, and I think she does an excellent job blending history with J.C.’s personal experiences.
There are other books out there. I wanted to grab the books that I enjoyed reading. Each of these told a story that I was able to get into, and in some cases, I could see something I used to do. Those shared experiences are so much fun to find.
I think everyone has those games, books, or movies that make them feel a certain way. In this case, several of these books made me think back to something from my childhood. Other times they shed some light on the part of history that I wasn’t familiar with.
If you’re looking to read something interesting, then any of the books on this list will be the right one for you. Thank you very much for reading.