Review: Death by Video Game, Simon Parkin

Who here is a gamer? Show of hands, please! I went into Death by Video Game with a very low level of gaming knowledge, and people with a low level of gaming knowledge is who I recommend this book for. I suspect that readers with knowledge of the gaming world would say “fie” to this book.

gamers reading this book, probably
gamers reading this book, probably

THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM. I found Death by Video Game during a random, but pleasant, browse through my library’s catalog, and it is exactly what I wanted it to be: A series of journalistic sociology essays about the worlds and possibilities of video games, from people dropping dead at gaming cafes after hours of play, to fundraisers that depend on gamers being willing to play mind-numbingly dull video games for hours upon hours, to games that realistically explore some of the most difficult and terrifying things about being human. And I came away from the book feeling how I wanted to feel: That there are worlds of knowledge under the sub-heading “video game,” and I should dedicate some time to learning more about them.

Death by Video Game

(Jenny Learns Something New and Gets Excited about It: An Autobiography in Infinite Chapters.)

Did it make me want to play video games? Yes, but not enough for me to actually do anything about it. Knowing my addiction to stories as I do, I am sure that if I got into gaming, it would quickly consume my life (very expensively!) and I would never get anything else done ever again. So I continue to opt out of gaming. I feel the same way, roughly, about getting your ears pierced. Earrings would delight me! I would have tons of them! And it would cost money and I’d have to keep track of all of them and it’d be one more damn thing for me to worry about when I’m getting ready in the morning.

I know, it's unusual
how other adult women respond to discovering that my ears are not pierced

“But what’s your favorite thing you learned from this book, Jenny?” Glad you asked! My most favorite thing is that the EVE Online, a science fiction video game, has an elected player council called the Council of Stellar Management that meets once a year with the game developers, CCP, in Iceland to talk about new planned features and to represent player interests to the company that owns the game.

“Council members can have very different ambitions and concerns depending on which part of space their hail from,” explains CCP’s Ned Coker. “You may have somebody who lives in the galaxy’s outer reaches and, as such, they will have a very different viewpoint to those that live in a more centralised area.”

Fascinating, no?

Parkin also talks about the way games encourage imaginative identification to an extent that less immersive media do not. In a game like That Dragon, Cancer, it becomes impossible to separate yourself emotionally from the experience of having a baby who’s dying, because the game forces you to experience it from the viewpoint of the caretakers. He rejects the idea that video games are “just games,” or that the worldviews of the games have no effect on the worldviews of the gamers. At the same time, he doesn’t delve very deeply into this topic (or any of his topics), since the idea is more to provide a window into the variety of games that exist than to provide substantial critiques of gaming culture.

Verdict: An excellent, readable introduction to the video games and player types that exist in our wondrously varied world.

  • raidergirl3

    Ha, no earrings. Me too! I and loved the line about wanting to learn about something, but knowing it is not feasible because of your personality, and not having time for a new obsession. Plus Nina? This is my favourite post of yours in a long time.

  • I avoid video games for much the same reason you do. I had Civilization on CD back before online gaming was a thing, and my need to finish the thing made it too much of a time suck.

    Your mention of EVE reminds me of a favorite podcast episode about one of the game’s more influential players who died in the attack on the embassy in Libya. http://www.wnyc.org/story/11-rip-vile-rat/

  • Katherine Koba

    Yessss team no earrings!

    Incidentally I’ve been looking for a book like this for a while (one of my English tutees is an avid gamer) so thanks for bringing it up!

  • JeanPing

    If I played video games much I’d have permanently injured arms, so that’s an incentive. I’d totally replay all the Myst games though, I loved them. Oh, and Portal was awesome.

  • Kim Aippersbach

    I suspect my sons would like it if I read this! Though I already know just from observing the games they play that it’s impossible to make the blanket judgement parents like to make about video games. I’ve seen them play and talk about some very cool things. They keep wanting me to try some, and there are some that I think I would really enjoy, but my TBR is already so long, how could I add yet another long list to the list?!

  • helen (a gallimaufry)

    Jenny, you have such a talent for finding interesting books and writing brilliantly about them. I agree with you about everything! Even ear-piercing! (Though I would add, I suspect that having holes punched in your earlobes might hurt a bit, and I am not a fan of pain.)
    Going to read your piece in SNB now! Looks great.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    I like old fashioned gaming without a screen 🙂 I don’t have a TV therefore no video game console and my computer is a Mac so even when I go in search of prospective video games I am very limited and have yet to find one that has piqued my interest enough to buy it and then spend hours and hours playing it. I’ve tried a few on my iPad and while they were fun for like a week after that they got boring and I deleted them. I am hard to please 🙂

  • Y’see, I’ve always thought games might be fun, but they’re expensive like you said and there doesn’t seem to be a favourable learning curve with the ones you play with other people, so I’ve always resisted.

    I did buy a gaming Humble Bundle ages ago because it was $5, but it turned out my then-computer wasn’t strong enough for games so I gave up.

    I do like things about games, though! Things about games bring me great joy.

    Also, earrings don’t take as much time and energy as all that. I wear the same rings for weeks at a stretch. They just sit in my ears day after day, keeping my piercings open until such time as I want to switch ’em out for some hooks. (The post earrings with the little grabby things on the back are super uncomfortable, so I avoid those.) I do have an earring tale of WOE, though. When I was nineteen, I decided I was gonna get lots more holes, but my piercer friend squeezed my ears and told me my lobes weren’t large enough for it. I remain bummed to this day.

  • My son is a gamer, and honestly, I don’t get it. He used to be a voracious reader, but now he barely reads at all. He much prefers sitting at his computer playing his games, sometimes with his friends and other times by himself. There is no doubt he has fun, but when left to his own devices he would not sleep. We struggle with this, although we have not bothered to evaluate why it is easier to accept someone reading all night versus someone staring at a computer screen all night. This has been one of the biggest areas of contention between my son and us as he tries to explain how enriching these games are and how they help him mentally. I confess that I remain dubious, but I am still mourning the loss of my reading son.

  • I never got into gaming. I think the only game I ever finished was the Clara Bow mystery games, and that was mainly because they reminded me of book! But I do find gaming culture fascinating so I might see if my library has this.

  • I love gaming, but it is hard to balance with reading, time-wise! I’ve not found it to be too expensive though. I play a lot of online games with friends and we can get into a single game for quite a long time. I think I could still learn new things from reading this, but I’m concerned I’d find it annoyingly negative about video games, given the title and some of the topics you mentioned.