Recently I've been reading a lot of books about videogames. By recently I mean over the last year, and by a lot I mean I've read two, but some of us have more important things to do than sit and read like complete nerds! Some of us have pixel bead art based on retro video games to create...
So, the two books I'm going to talk about are slightly related, in that they cover the same era of gaming - the 80's and 90's. This was my time, when videogames were the most amazing thing in the world in my eyes. While I was never allowed a console that plugged into the TV, I was allowed a Gameboy (that I had to save up my pocket money for), and I played that thing into the ground. Anyway, onto the first book...
Service Games: The Rise and Fall of SEGA by Sam Pettus
This book is mainly for Sega fans only. I must admit, I struggled with parts of it, and I'm genuinely interested in the company and its history. I think the main problem is the way the book is put together, kind of like a school project or textbook. Each system, add-on and development is covered chronologically, with accompanying black and white photos, and technical specifications at the end of each chapter.
Personally I found the rise to success very interesting, but the decline, starting with the 32X and culminating with the Dreamcast, fascinating.
While there are many interesting facts and stories, the book is let down by its overall quality and presentation. The paper feels too thin and flimsy, and spelling mistakes litter the work. It just feels more like a textbook than a book you'd read purely for pleasure. If you can look past these aspects, and have an interest in Sega, or even just console gaming from back in the day, then you might want to consider this book.
Console Wars by Blake Harris
Slightly higher profile is Console Wars by Blake Harris. Currently being worked into a documentary and a feature film, the book covers the Nintendo Vs Sega console battles of the 80's and 90's. After touching on the history of each company, the book delves deep into the battles between industry behemoth Nintendo and plucky underdog Sega.
And this depiction is part of the problem here: the book feels very biased in Sega's favour. The main protagonist is Tom Kalinske, then CEO of Sega of America, and the book charts his first foray into the games industry with Sega, his efforts at bringing Sega up to compete with Nintendo, and then his attempts to keep Sega of Japan from squandering all their good work. It's an interesting insight into the high level dealings that helped shape my childhood, but I wish there was more input from Nintendo. Whether they were less forthcoming or not, Harris seems content to paint them as the bad guys holding retailers to ransom and not doing anything inventive (Super Mario World is the target of some unfounded criticism here). Meanwhile, Kalinske is essentially Robin Hood, insisting on the low price mark of the Megadrive, and that Sega's best game at the time - Sonic The Hedgehog - gets thrown in as a free pack in game.
The other problem is the expository conversations in the book. While it is made clear early on that a lot of the conversations are reconstructed from various accounts over the years, they aren't always written down convincingly. Harris tries to shoehorn as much exposition and descriptive writing into conversations, making it come across as highly unrealistic that anyone would actually talk that way. This, coupled with the fact that Kalinske seems to never do anything wrong during his six year stint at Sega of America, makes me question the integrity of the story as a whole.
But it is quite a tale, and I found the insights into the marketing methods particularly interesting. By the end of the book Nintendo seem to have learned a lesson and changed their ways for the better, becoming a company more responsive to the needs and wants of the consumers and industry, rather than just dictating from up high.
This book is well worth a read, as long as your literary standards aren't too high. The writing can be clunky in places, and cliches are thrown around like Donkey Kong's barrels, but the story will hold the interest of anyone remotely interested in a little gaming history. Skip the foreword by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg though - it's literally a conversation that predictably veers off course and adds nothing to proceedings, other than a name or two to help book sales.
My latest book is called Grand Thieves and Tomb Raiders, and is about "How British Videogames Conquered The World". I'm only a few pages in, but already it seems professionally written, and is covering an area of gaming that I'm less familiar with, despite being British. And after that I'm planning to read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I don't usually read fiction, but this one has had so many good reviews, and seems so up my street that I can't resist!
I'll report back when I've read these books, in a year or two.
My name is Iain and my addiction is making pixel bead art. My main inspirations are comics, video games and movies.