book reviews

Everyone Plays at the Libary
These days libraries are so much more than just a dusty collection of books. They are growing into media and social hubs sharing information and social experiences alike. For some it is obvious that games are part of this development. After all, games are a medium, and can be used to convey all sorts of information. In fact, games combine information and social experiences quite naturally. Sadly, not many members of your typically library staff are experienced gamers, let alone experts on the medium. Libraries risk missing out on a wonderful opportunity to rejuvenate their public function. Enter Scott Nicholson’s wonderful book on creating great gaming experience in libraries.
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Racing the Beam
You can look at games from many different perspectives. You can treat them as media objects and study their reception with an audience. Games have cultural links that tie them to other popular media. Games are played by pushing buttons, and this might be fun or not. You can study the people and companies and that create games or inspect the nuts and bolts of their hardware and software. In Racing the Beam Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost integrate these wide variety of perspectives into one: platform studies. They chose the Atari 2600 as the focal point for their first in-depth survey based on this integrated approach.
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Game Audio Articles
Tired of reading articles? Stretched for time? Try the new IndustryBroadcast site, a wonderful initiative of Ryan Wiancko to make game related articles available in audio format. With 16 articles posted at the time of this writing, this site is already a valuable resource for any scholar, student or designer. Expect articles from this site to appear there soon...
>>>go there>>>

Persuasive Games
Persuasive Games offers a kaleidoscopic perspective on the rhetorical nature of games. Ian Bogost reflects on the expressive, cultural qualities of games that have the power to persuade, inform and change their players. The book touches upon a large variety of subjects beyond gaming: politics, education and advertising. In lengthy expositions Bogost shows how the logics of these fields have been incorporated in games, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully. The high number of subjects and games discussed is probably one of the book greatest strengths, but I would have preferred Bogost to discuss procedural rhetoric itself more rigorously.
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The Cult of the Amateur
It is not often that you encounter a book that is so right and so wrong at the same time. Andrew Keen on the one hand does an excellent job busting the current Web 2.0 myth of democratised media. He reveals how the current ‘cult of the amateur’ turns user generated content into big profits for big companies, without properly paying the creators, and by stealing time from consumers who have to shift through all this amateur work themselves. His analysis is sharp and thought-provoking, a much needed antidote to the Web 2.0 hype. On the other hand his work quickly degenerates into a personal and highly rhetoric rant against Web 2.0, blaming it for anything from Internet porn to software piracy and the breakdown of moral standards in general. The book’s subtitle is very revealing for the quality and sentiment of this second part. Sharp as his critique of the cult of the amateur is, so bluntly he ignores the reasons why cultural institutes such as Hollywood or the music industry were failing in the first place. When Keen finally gives us his recommendations on how we can turn Web 2.0 into a force for the good, he sinks to a level I would call dubious and self-contradicting.
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Got Game
Gaps between generations are nothing new. But this is the first time I have encountered a handbook that explains to older generation how to deal with the emerging generation. The older generation are the baby boomers, the emerging generation, you might have guessed it, are the gamers. John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade have investigated the work ethics and practices of employers and employees across generations and game experience and come to the conclusion that games are changing business forever.
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Play Between Worlds
Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are increasingly popular, so it should come as no surprise that we see an increase in the academic attention these games get. T.L Taylors book is among those works that study MMORPGs (in this case mostly EverQuest). Although Taylor still needs to explain a lot about MMORPGs to a general audience that might not be familiar to this type of game, the real strength of Play Between Worlds is found in the latter chapters where Taylor's critical cultural analysis differs from the game publisher's standard rhetoric.
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Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture
This little book presents a approach to games grounded in media theory, film theory and critical philosophy. As it title implies it is essayistic in nature; Alexander Galloway is more interested in presenting trajectories for though than fully formed theories. His insights are often radical, socially inspired, intelligent and informed. Even though I do not always agree with him, and he sometimes relies too much on film theory, his contribution to game studies is a valuable one. I think the trajectories he outlines will shape game studies for the years to come.
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Digital Storytelling
Carolyn Handler Miller wrote a book about storytelling for various interactive media. In its scope the book is one of the broadest I have so far encountered. This is probably the book biggest strengths. Combined with an interest of the author that favours content over technology this makes for a fresh approach to the field of interactive storytelling, even though the author does not follow through and is less thorough than I would want her to be.
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The Business and Culture of Digital Games
If you need a complete and condensed overview of the current state of the games industry and game studies, then The Business and Culture of Digital Games is an invaluable source. In seven chapters Aphra Kerr gives a detailed account of games from a media studies perspective. She discusses most (if not all) of the relevant literature and presents a wealth of statistical data. The strength of this book lies especially in the latter. But even though it was due time somebody put all those figures in a digestible format, Kerr contributes only little to the information she gathers.
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Unit Operations
If you think this book is just about videogames you are mistaken. It is about much, much more. Ian Bogost presents a dazzling and inspiring theory of human culture that draws on computer science, literary theory, psychology and semiotics, among other things. It is almost as if videogames happen to be the centre of all these fields and disciplines by accident. Bogost's vision is grand but also a little eclectic and highly theoretical. While working through all discussions post-structuralist philosophy and mathematics of complexity it is not always easy to see why all this matters for the study of games.
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Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play
Ludology is pretty dominant in the books I have been reading over the last couple of months. But the authors of Computer Games examine games in a way that extents the narrow ludic approach. Drawing from social semiotics Carr and company regard games as the product and medium of social practices that include three important dimensions: ludic, representational and social. Most of their most relevant observations involve the dynamic interaction between any or all these dimension.
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The Medium of the Video Game
It is curious how quick a book can feel outdated. Despite being published in 2001, The Medium of The Video Game fails to come up with an analysis that retains much relevance for the contemporary form of games. That being said, the book does have some historical value, as the way it describes games and gameplay, it vividly recalls the gaming experience of those early days. In doing so it forces our attention on some structures of play that are now considered obsolete by industry standards, but which, in my opinion, make for some abstract but very interesting gameplay.
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Synthetic Worlds
Edward Castronova made an important contribution to the popular attention of Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). His 2001 article "Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier" opened the eyes of many uninitiated to the fact how serious gamers are taking MMORPGs and how much money people are making from this. Synthetic Worlds is Castronova's more recent book on the same subject. Again he discusses online games from the perspective of economy and public policy, which is a welcome change from the majority of game-literature usually focusses on technology, design and the art of games.
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Pause & Effect
Pause & Effect is a beautiful book. Definitely the most visual work on the subject of interactive narrative I have ever encountered. From its almost baroque design it immediately becomes clear that Meadows has a multidisciplinary background that among other things has seen him working as a game-designer, photographer, portrait painter and writer. Clearly, this multifaceted approach is the book biggest asset, as Meadows, rightly so, positions interactive narrative on the intersection of literature, visual art and interaction design.
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Digital Play
Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig De Peuter have delivered an excellent and highly-recommendable history of video games. What makes their approach so successful is that they draw on the work of some giants in the field of communication and cultural studies (Innis, McLuhan and Williams). They use this work as foundations of an insightful and critical account of the development of the medium of the video game.
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21st Century Game Design, a review
Games are not forms of art, but forms of entertainment aimed at a large audience. From this point Chris Bateman and Richard Boon start their discussion of contemporary game design. This point of view might be reduced to a difference of words: as entertainment games can be and are compared to cinema by the authors, a cultural form that many would approach as a form of (popular) art. But the pragmatic and businesslike approach of Bateman and Boon is quite refreshing in an academic field that is dominated by technological and artistic perspectives.
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21st Century Game Design, a review
Games are not forms of art, but forms of entertainment aimed at a large audience. From this point Chris Bateman and Richard Boon start their discussion of contemporary game design. This point of view might be reduced to a difference of words: as entertainment games can be and are compared to cinema by the authors, a cultural form that many would approach as a form of (popular) art. But the pragmatic and businesslike approach of Bateman and Boon is quite refreshing in an academic field that is dominated by technological and artistic perspectives.
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Half-Real, a review
Roughly three-quarters of Jesper Juul's new book are reiterations of his previous articles. This should come as no surprise as both Half-Real as those articles are the result of his PhD research. Interestingly, Juul's position has changed over the years: while he once was an outspoken ludogists, he has nuanced his views somewhat. In Half-Real fiction (but not narrative) plays an important role next to a more formal study of game rules. This change of perspective is perhaps the most surprising part of the work, but unfortunately it also falls short of being truly ground-breaking.
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A Theory of Fun for Game Design, a review
Raph Koster has delivered an interesting book about video games, even though it is not always as thorough as I would want it to be. At a first glance I did not take the book very seriously. Almost half of its 244 pages are reserved for cartoons that seem to remediate the text in nice bite-size chunks. The text itself is devoid of references, and written in a way that it accessible to even the most dull-witted nerd. If it had not been for a colleague recommending the book I would have never picked it up. But I am glad I eventually did.
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Windows and Mirrors
Jay David Bolter has accumulated some fame as co-author of Remediation, a book in which he together with Richard Grusin expand on the works of Marshall McLuhan. The theoretical backbone of the previous book the dual logic of immediacy and hypermediacy. In Windows and Mirrors Jay David Bolter together with Diane Gromala takes up the same idea, but where (in my humble opion) Remediation focussed to much on the ideal immediacy, Windows and Mirrors makes a strong case for hypermediacy as an important alternative to immediacy and the myth of the transparent medium.
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Everything Bad is Good for You
Steven Johnson tries to counter the common sentiment that popular culture is making us, and especially our children, dumber. He argues to the contrary. Popular culture is actually making us smarter.
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Rules of Play
This hefty and well-designed tome contains the wisdom of game designers and educators Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. Its 600 pages discuss games from a lot of different angles, which are grouped together in four 'units'. The first unit focuses on the books core concepts while the last three expand on central themes of games as systems, play and culture. Each unit is further divided in different chapters that discuss an aspect of games and playing in more detail.
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Power Up, a review
In Power Up Chris Kohler sets out to discover why Japanese video games have very popular in the United States for a long time. From the start he attributes this success to the introduction of narrative and cinematic elements. American games from the seventies featured blocky and often abstract game elements, a stark contrast to the character driven titles with which Japanese companies conquered the United States in the early eighties. According to Kohler Donkey Kong is the first game that incorporates a full narrative, complete with beginning, middle and end.
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Television Culture
Recently it occurred to me that there are some interesting parallels between computer games and television series. So I picked up a copy of John Fiske's Television Culture. This book acknowledged these parallels, but it also did something more.
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Mind The Gap
When Chris Crawford speaks many people stop and listen. When Chris Crawford speaks about interactive storytelling I rush to the nearest bookstore and get the book. As an Atari veteran from the early eighties, he published several games, articles and books on games. His Art of Computer Game Design (1983) is a fixture on the list of references of many academic books and articles. He is one of the few people that try to bridge the gap between the "techie" culture of the industry and the "artsie" culture of the academia and his name carries weight on both sides of the divide. Does he succeed in bridging that gap with his latest book On Interactive Storytelling ? Well, that is a difficult question to answer, but I am afraid he does not. His book is technically sound, but it fails to cater for the appetite of the artsie reader
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The official book of Ultima
A colleague from university kindly lend me this book. She said it would make nice bedside reading. And it does. It also does a little bit more as it contains a lot of quotes from Richard Garriott (aka Lord British, Ultima’s creator and lead designer). I assume many of these quotes to be real, since Garriott himself wrote the introduction for the book.
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Reinventing Comics
Like its predecessor Understanding Comics (1993) this book is a verbally and visually eloquent treatise on comics. This time Scott McCloud looks more into the future and discusses what comics might become if it took itself more seriously as forms of art and literature, diversifies its themes and genres and starts addressing a bigger audience.
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The Video Game Theory Reader
This is a good collection of some interesting articles about video games. The articles by Gonzalo Frasca and Chris Crawford are of particular interest to my current research. This book is somewhat different from the more narratologist approach to gaming that I usually read. The practical hands-on approach offered by the game designers and ludologists are quite refreshing to read, although I still tend to disagree on some crucial points.
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The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Recently I have seen many references to this book. And with my interest in the narratives it was only a matter of time before I traced a copy and read. It makes a very good read, as Campbell uses so many wonderful tales to illustrate the generic “adventure of the hero”. Based on psychology and anthropology more than on linguistics or literary theory Campbell builds a monomyth which main function is to guide man through the different stages of life. Using examples from Native Americans, Hindu and Greek mythology, the Bible, Japanese Shinto tales and folklore from Australia he argues that all myths and stories deal with the same subject of the life cycle and focus on the rites of passage.
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Spectacular Narratives, Hollywood In The Age of the Blockbuster
Spectacular Narratives defends the contemporary blockbuster against those critics that claim that these flicks are void of any real story and by extension of any real significance. Geoff King argues against this that although these films may be lacking in a strong and intricate causals structure, they are underpinned by a structural opposition not unlike Greimas' semiotic squares.
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More Than A Game, The Computer Game As Fictional Form
Barry Atkins is Lecturer in English who has taken an interest in computer games. In this work he examines the way these works construct stories.
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