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Nice Work if You Can Get It

by Brad Zellar


Tags: video games, video game industry, Tom Bissell, Dan Duray, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, arts, New York Observer, Brad Zellar,

call-of-dutyAs someone who hasn’t played a video game since Ronald Reagan was in the White House, I obviously wasn’t the ideal reader for Tom Bissell’s “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.” I was curious, though, and willing to give Bissell at least 100 pages to make his case.  Fifty pages in I decided 100 pages was 50 too many. That’s not fair, I know, but I have all sorts of other things just sitting around waiting to boggle my brain. According to Booklist, however, Bissell’s book ultimately demonstrates that playing a video game “is a form a self-surrender, but a different form than, say, a movie. We have no influence over what happens in a movie, but we do in a video game. In playing a video game, we are, in a sense, the authors of the stories we’re acting out.”

I took from this a surely misguided notion that video games are in some way similar to real life, in the living of which we are, in a sense, the authors of the stories we’re acting out. From the little of Extra Lives that I did read I should add that the sorts of video games Bissell describes are perhaps more similar to the lives of other people (people, generally speaking, with weapons and a compelling reason to use them) than to my own, but I recognize that I live in something of a bubble and my own “story” doesn’t offer a whole lot of opportunity to “act out” and represents, in and of itself, its own unique (if terribly boring) “form of self-surrender” (read: resignation).

Because I’m both cynical and skeptical, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that there are people –writers, journalists, novelists—who are wildly enthusiastic about penning the scripts for video games. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s a $40 billion-a-year industry, and, though it hadn’t exactly occurred to me before reading Dan Duray’s piece in The New York Observer, somebody has to create some sort of backstory for these games, even if only to provide a framework within which gamers can author the stories they act out.

“As Faulkner and Fitzgerald made their attempts in Hollywood,” Duray writes, “more and more journalists and fiction writers are making the shift to writing video games.” He quotes a man named Todd “P” Patrick, a concert promoter who runs something called a “pop-up video games gallery” in New York: “You want to write a novel? Who's going to read it? A bunch of people in grad school? Fuck that. Everybody plays video games.”

Many of the video game writing gigs used to go to characters with Hollywood screenwriting credentials, Duray says, but these days, with companies cutting corners, the work is increasingly going to journalists and fiction writers. People like Tom Bissell, who was recently named to Game Developer magazine's power list and is currently shopping around a “comedy shooter.” For that project, Duray reports, Bissell hopes to get the novelist Junot Diaz to provide the voice of the main character.

Source: The New York Observer 

Image by Nikkibearrrrr, licensed under Creative Commons.