Posted by Female Gamers on Jan 20, 2010
Difficult Questions About Videogames the book review – Article

Difficult Questions About Videogames the book review – Article

Difficult Questions About Videogames is a new book by James Newman (Author), Iain Simons (Author) published November 2004 (yes a week or so ago) and we’ve given it the once over – As far as academic texts go most of them are so convoluted and elitist in the way they’re written that the ‘regular joe’ would have little to no hope of understanding what the text is trying to say; but that’s the point isn’t it, to keep the ‘academic elite’.. well, elite. So, why on earth even bother to review a book that essentially is an academic book about videogames, given not many will understand a bloody word of it? Well this book is different, yes it is an academic text, but it differs in one major way, it is for the most part fun to read (yes I’m serious) and it doesn’t often patronize the reader. Oh if only all academic texts were written with such fervor, why I’d have had my dissertation written in no time instead of pondering over 10 paragraphs of drivel that really could have been covered succinctly in one.

Read the foreword entitled ‘Two Words’ and smile with delight as you’re taken on a discourse of academic language that, at first seems to fall into the usual depths of ‘up their own backsides language’ that the majority of these texts do, but then, almost magically you realize that the writers know of the annoyance of ‘academic speak’ and although there are moments of what I fondly refer to as ‘Dictionary Reach’ it is all packaged in such a way that is both amusing and for the most part explanatory, although it should be pointed out that a few of the respondents most definitely got on their academic high chairs to spit out all manner of undecipherable and turgid waffle. Predominantly though you’ll know what the majority are on about and it really does get the brain ticking. Oh wonder of ergodic wonder!

So what’s the book about?
Essentially the book is a culmination of gamers¹ thoughts and ideas on the state of contemporary thinking regarding the cultural phenomenon of videogames. What makes this different is that the academics, journalists, developers etc within the book all answer a set of the same questions which leads to some extremely informed and deeply thought out answers which can then be examined by comparing and contrasting the views expressed. There are names you’ll recognize and names you wont but it is the body of what each has to say that will keep you reading.

In essence the people behind the book sent out emails to various people within the games industry (or branches thereof) asking if they’d be interested in participating by answering set questions. Positive replies led to a second email which contained the questions. They also had a website where the questions were so participants could utilise this as a way of filling in responses. Although the art of CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) is at some higher levels of academia seen as methodologically inferior, this book shows that such approaches not only work, but they work well. Peoples responses too are written verbatim other than typographic errors, there’s no academic fluffing here, it’s all peoples thoughts and they’ve been kind enough to let the reader make connections between individual responses rather than telling the reader what they should be thinking.

The Questions…
In another interesting turn the questions themselves seem extremely straight forward, however as can be seen by the responses we all have diverse definitions for the most basic of concepts. This is superb because it really gets the reader thinking also about what they believe the concept is about. An example of this is the very first question posed: ‘What is a videogame?’ Sounds simple enough, but REALLY give it some thought and then try to explain it, are you going to come from the standpoint of a gamer, developer, child, adult, and the list goes on. Of course some of the respondents give similar answers based around the actual component parts, it’s interactive, its video based, goal oriented etc but for the most part individuals have all given differing responses. It is at this point that we should mention once more that some of the respondents have very much taken to the academic bicycle when answering, which is a shame as it therefore removes the text from the readership of the regular joe, to the readership of the educated and this of course seemed to be what the entire book was trying to avoid. Some of the respondents appear to have taken weeks to craft a reply rather than simply giving it thought and replying in a manner that the layman will understand. This is the downfall of academic text as it is exactly this kind of elitist bettering that will ruin a succinct and lucid response and turn it into something obscure and pretentious… at least that’s what this reviewer feels. Had I edited the book I honestly believe I’d have released two versions, one being the ‘every joe version’ and the other the ‘academics try and outdo what they think other academics might do edition’… just a thought.

The way the book is actually set out is fantastic. It is essentially cut into chapters and these in turn house various questions relating to the chapter heading. All respondents answers are chunked together uniformly under the question number so you read the question at the beginning of a new chapter section and then all the respondents answers to that one question follow on. It is a far better setup than to have had each respondent have their own section thus making for a flick and search style of reading when comparing answers.

Oh come on, what difference does size make? Oh ok ok, it’s a rather nice 363 pages long including supplementary guff such as the foreword and contributors listing. All in all it is just right, it could have no doubt gone on and on given the sheer amount of people who would no doubt have opted to respond had they been aware of its existence prior to print (grumble grumble).

A definite plus for this book is the thought factor, it really leads you to want to discuss the varying aspects within its many pages. If you’re lucky enough to know other gamers of like mind don’t be afraid to point them in the direction of this title wen you’re done with it because the ensuing conversation will be well worth it. As the product blurb states, the answers in this book are radical, loving, conservative, funny, mundane, controversial and emotional – what binds them together is the commitment that these questions are worth answering. And therefore worth talking about with your gaming pals.

Graphically speaking there’s not much to this title, you may overlook this in your bookstore as it hides out in that dark corner that is the social sciences section, but huzzah you can purchase it online.

It has that pick up and play factor, the foreword is a joy to read thanks to the humorous approach taken by James Newman and Iain Simons. Given the set up of the book as previously mentioned this also makes it far easier to read and was a clever move on the part of those who put this title together. Sure it does suffer from a few irks but these can be firmly pointed at these fragging academic types who are only interested in outdoing some other bespectacled so and so whose main job is to make as many readers brows furrow in perplexity as is possible. For the most part however respondents managed to stay on track and give amusing and insightful answers.

A fantastic effort that is worthy of any gamers bookshelf be she / he academically driven or purely gaming mad. The insight you’ll gain from the differing views and perspectives is something few (if any) other gaming books will give you because it is the structure and diverse responses that will have you thinking and wondering why other books haven’t taken a similar tack as this.

If you like a little dabble in the waters of academia and you also happen to be an avid gamer you should purchase this book with haste. Regular gamers with little interest in the academic realm may also find much of this book of interest and it will certainly give them insight and intelligent inferences that they’ll carry with them from that point on. Given the huge mix of contributors there’s bound to be something here for you. All in all a really nice book that finally examines fundamental and seemingly simple questions we all thought we knew the answers to, but perhaps we truly hadn’t even begun to consider.

¹Gamers as in the respondents. These range from academics to developers to students.

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One Response to “Difficult Questions About Videogames the book review – Article”

  1. ZiggyD says:

    Might be something im interested in, thanks for the review. Ill see if I can find a copy.

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