Video games are currently a multi-billion dollar industry, permeating our popular culture more and more. As we reach the point where entire generations of adults have grown up playing video games, the more they begin to permeate our popular culture. The late Roger Ebert famously argued that video games could never be art (though he did later apologize for his position, in a manner). Tom Bissell's Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter takes up the unenviable task of arguing not only for the cultural significance of video games, but also for the declaration of video games as an art form.
Extra Lives itself is structured in a series of different essays, most of which reflect specifically on a single game, whether it be BioShock, or Mass Effect. Bissell, a journalist who has won awards for his travel writing, makes each chapter so intensely personal by way of his own reactions and circumstances relating to these games. He talks about missing the election of Barack Obama because he was too busy playing Fallout 3 and dedicates an entire essay to talking about playing Resident Evil in the second person to convey his emotions in as direct a manner as possible. Most compelling is the gloomy final essay of the book, where Bissell discusses the addictive quality of games by way of a story of actual drug addiction where his experiences playing the infamous game Grand Theft Auto IV became intrinsically linked to his becoming addicted to cocaine.
While Bissell's writing is often fascinating and rarely boring (and proffers some excellent theories and concepts on the nature of narrative and its role in video games), some discussions of his experiences with specific games such as Far Cry 2 can easily fall flat if one is not familiar with the game in question. Highly recommended to the video game loving crowd as well as those who take interest in narrative theory, the book is a quick read that is definitely worth your time.
Tim @ Central