Gaming isn’t just about pixels and frame rates anymore.
For many, video games are more than an adolescent form of entertainment. Video games affect people on a deeply emotional level and have sentimental meaning to millions of fans, just as films and novels do.
Tom Bissel’s ‘Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter’, examines games from this illuminating, deeply personal perspective.
Extra Lives tackles Bissel’s affection for video games through a personal narrative. The novel chronicles the time he spent playing Bioware’s Mass Effect, his thoughts on Braid, Left 4 Dead, and other notable video games of the last few years.
Interestingly, it also tackles his struggle with a real world cocaine addiction, which he compares to his addiction to reaping havoc on the streets of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV. Strange? Yes, but it also makes for extremely captivating reading material. (That particular chapter is available to read online.)
At times, the titles Bissel discusses in his work are outdated, as the book was published in 2010. It’s hard not to wonder how his opinions might have changed if emotionally driven narrative titles like Heavy Rain or Mass Effect 2 had been released while he was writing Extra Lives.
Bissel’s a serious gamer, but he’s also an accomplished writer and journalist. Over the course of Extra Lives, he struggles internally with the question, “Do video games matter?” At times, he seems to feel video games truly are a form of art, but at others he struggles to find a deeper narrative meaning and feels games are a waste of his time. He’s embarrassed about his pastime, but he also enjoys it —this internal conflict is the focal point of the book.
In one chapter, he describes a mission in Grand Theft Auto IV where the player must transport two dead bodies in the trunk of his car across a fictional New York City. He uses this example to explain that video games offer a different form of narrative. Because games are inherently interactive, they allow the player to be sucked into their intricately crafted worlds with more ease than a movie or film.
The chapter that focuses on the first Resident Evil title for the Playstation is particularly riveting. His perspectives on the game are fresh and could easily apply to modern video game development in an extremely beneficial way.
Bissel concludes that video games encapsulate, “a form of storytelling that is, in many ways, completely unprecedented.” Video games are a developing medium but have tremendous potential.
He’s not trying to change the minds of renowned film critics like Roger Ebert, who has stated that in his opinion, “Video games can never be art.” Through Extra Lives, Bissel wants to show the world that video games can create a compelling narrative in ways that movies and novels never will.
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This post was also featured on Canada.com