Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Review: Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World

Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World by Andrew Ervin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The subtitle of the book: “how video games transformed our world” is probably a bit too ambitious and overstates what the book is really about. It is far more of a memoir of the author’s, Andrew Ervin, jaunt through the history of video games. I get the sense the point of the book changed over time: that at first Ervin was looking to write a history of the video game — and the book largely tracks that history. Ervin tracks down original versions of old games to play them. He talks with some of the original designers. But along the way, we get more and more of Ervin’s experiences—not just of the game but of his life story. Not a lot, mind you, it’s not an autobiography. But his life forms the context of much of the storytelling about video games, just like the way such narratives set the backstory for many video games.

The other layer is the cultural impact of video games. Ervin weaves in cultural, art, and literary criticism into the discussion of video games. These parts were uneven. Sometimes insightful, other times insipid, and occasionally pompous or overwrought.

The book is definitely at its strongest on the first two fronts: as a history and a memoir of a gamer. Ervin’s own experiences playing Minecraft or Adventure resonated more with me than discussions about Dadaism, Moby Dick, or militarism. Much of the history can be gathered elsewhere, but Ervin’s conversations with the creators and designers added a novel aspect to the standard histories. Lastly, some of the games Ervin plays and discusses are ones that are outside of the mainstream (or are at least ones I had never heard of). This broadens the subject to include different kinds of video games to show how varied and diverse the genre really is.

Overall, the book is interesting and worth a read if you are interested in gaming.

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