The Serious Gamer

by Debbie Ginsberg


For those of us of a certain age, part of our personal history is bound to include some kind of relationship with video games. Perhaps you owned a couple of sophisticated gaming systems, like an Atari or Commodore. Maybe you played every variation of Zelda. Or you played only a few rounds of Pac Man at your local video arcade, preferring other forms of fun. But at some point, video games were likely to have touched in your life in ways big or small.

The nearly 25 essays in Gamers: Writers, Artists, and Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels (edited by Shanna Compton, Soft Skull Press, 2004) focus on these varied relationships. Many of these short essays take an academic approach, describing the physics of moving objects in early video games, analyzing the language of the Sims, dissecting the range of expression that early 8-bit icons could evoke. Most of the essays, the best ones, describe more personal connections to video games a girl's bond with her Dark Tower game on her Mac, a boy's overarching desire to someday finish Double Dragon and what happened after that fateful day. The essays on older games evoke a deep sense of nostalgia; those on newer ones provide a glimpse into what we are as gamers today.

The longest piece in the book (22 pages) is also its most fascinating. Todd Rodgers became a world record holder after he played one video game for nearly 86 hours straight. His choice a rock adventure on the Atari 2600, Journey Escape. An odd choice, but an equally odd man. Rodgers is one of the most prolific gamers of all time, holding over 2000 high scores. And he is not unmindful of his own place in video game history. Known both for his records and for his acerbic wit, there's a reason he's called as the Howard Stern of gamers.

For those of us of a certain age, video games were always marginalized, something we could play but not really talk about, not seriously. Collections like this show how far our games have moved into everyday entertainment and academia. At the same time, as much as I enjoyed these essays, I would also like to see a similar collection about other kinds games, maybe modern MMPORGS and tabletop role-playing games. Games like these seem to remain outside the mainstream, and yet many of us have plenty of to say, both personal and academic, about our favorite forms of entertainment. Anybody up for writing a few essays? Gamers was a great read, but I think it's time for a sequel.



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