Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Cover of "Extra Lives: Why Video Games Ma...

Cover of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Sitting on my Amazon Wishlist for quite a while was a book called “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter”, by Tom Bissell. While perusing my campus library, I came across a copy of this book and, despite my uneasiness with library books (the stickers and plastic covers…blegh), I picked it up.

I feel better about my habit.

“Extra Lives” is a very interesting delve into what draws us to video games. Why do they matter to each of us? Bissell discusses lots of topics and games, from Fallout 3 to Far Cry 2 to Mass Effect, trying to identify the style of gameplay, the narrative, and even the addiction that brings us back time and time again.

If you’re looking to take a break from games for a while, this is a great endeavor. It’s engrossing, funny, and true in so many ways.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“One hour of Fallout 3, I told myself. Maybe two. Absolutely no more than three. Seven hours later, blinking and dazed, I turned off my Xbox 360…”

I think everyone had this moment playing Resident Evil. “You raise your pistol – and this is interesting: You cannot move while your pistol is raised.”

“Ten years later, another Capcom zombie game, Dead Rising, would have an even more infuriating and niggardly save system. As much as I love Dead Rising, I still wish ill upon everyone involved with its save-system implementation. Honestly. Those people can go to hell.”

One of the issues Bissell addresses: “Games are about challenge, which frustrates the passing of time and impedes narrative progression. The story force wants to go forward and the “friction force” of challenge tries to hold story back. This is the conflict at the heart of the narrative game…”

“I have had moderately meaningful relationships in which I invested less time than what I have spent on some BioWare games.”

“The face of a turian, for example, somehow resembles a cross between a camel and an artichoke.”

Regarding Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: “It also added dozens of diversions, the most needless of which was the ability of your controlled character, a young man named C.J., to get fat from eating health-restoring pizza and burgers – fat that could be burned off only by hauling C.J.’s porky ass down to the gym to ride a stationary bike and lift weights. This resulted in a lot of soul-scouring questions as to why (a) it even mattered to me that C.J. was fat and why (b) C.J. was getting more physical exercise than I was. Because I could not answer either question satisfactorily, I stopped playing.”

A more serious note on cocaine and Bissell’s addiction to Grand Theft Auto: “And soon I realized what video games have in common with cocaine: Video games, you see, have no edge. You have to appreciate them. They do not come to you.”

An excerpt from a conversation Bissell had with Fable II designer Sir Peter Molyneux: 

“TCB: I can tell you that when I played Fable II I became a slutty lesbian bigamist who had tons of children, all of whom I abandoned.

Molyneux: That’s fantastic!”

Pick this title up today, you will not regret it.

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