You just might learn something
The internet is a great place to learn pretty much anything. Sites like GamesRadar (and others to a lesser extent) offer up deep histories and analyses of gaming, but sometimes you dont want to stop at 2,000 words. Sometimes you want to read 450 pages about how Nintendo set up its American offices, or 360 pages on how two men named John introduced the world to Doom.
Though gaming books may not make it onto Amazon's most recent 100 books to read in a lifetime just yet, we rounded up 10 titles that provide much-needed perspective that the medium we could always use more of. If you want a better understanding of how the industry got to where it is today, consider these books a crash course thats far better than skimming Wikipedia.
Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World (David Sheff)
Nintendos journey from fledgling import to top game publisher in Japan and the US is chronicled in the once out-of-print Game Over. While the book covers the pre-gaming years in some detail (Nintendo owned Love Hotels?), the book really takes off with the launch of Donkey Kong and ends just as the SNES/Genesis war is heating up. Sheff is given an impressive amount of access, with insider accounts of Nintendos corporate structure, along with numerous candid quotes from many executives.
Sheff, an American writer, explores the companys Japanese roots and travels to Russia for a couple dense chapters on the struggle to get Tetris on the Game Boy, but theres a clear focus on Nintendo of America. Youll see how the fledgling US department slowly grew under Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln, to the point that it controlled more than 80% of the market. Their tactics werent always nice, but it's hard to argue with the results. If the only Nintendo executives youve heard of are Iwata and Reggie, Game Over gives you a much greater scope of the companys complicated foundation.
All Your Base Are Belong To Us (Harold Goldberg)
Dont let the hacky name fool you into thinking All Your Base... is some lame joke book. This title offers quite a collection of interesting profiles and anecdotes from gaming's history, only Goldberg doesnt set his sights on companies or mascots. The author focuses on individuals, the men and women that built the industry one game at a time, with each chapter offering new insight into a unique corner of the gaming world.
Goldberg recounts the struggles of Ken Levine on BioShock, John Madden chewing out EA about football, and how Naughty Dog had to overcome major Sony execs hate for Crash Bandicoot. Goldberg even scored access to notoriously press-shy Rockstar bosses, the Houser brothers. While most developer interviews seem handcuffed by PR, All Your Base... lets you see the passions, angers, and foibles of the people behind the games in a much more human way.
Masters of Doom (David Kushner)
Reading any number of books on video game history will give you an idea that gaming was such a new frontier that anyone could fall into it, even teen developers messing around on hacked PCs. The story of the two Johns that formed id and developed Doom, Wolfenstein, and Quake, gets very close to the two former friends. The reader witnesses John Carmack and John Romero go from avid programmers to industry pioneers to multimillionaires, and you see the effect it had on their relationship.
Whether youre familiar with the fractured history of Romero and Carmack or it was before your time, Masters of Doom gives much new perspective to the history of id and shooters in general. Much like a Social Network for the gaming world, this takes a massive business thats familiar to everyone, and then gets close enough to its subjects to reveal the quieter moments that few got to see.
The History of Nintendo 1889-1980 (Florent Gorges and Isao Yamazaki)
Some game fans think Nintendos history begins with Donkey Kong, but the company was around for nearly a century before that. For as in-depth of as David Sheffs Game Over is, its US-centric view glosses over decades of Nintendo products, from playing cards to board games to building blocks. The first volume of The History of Nintendo covers this era like no English language book had before, with a mountain of full-color photos for virtually every item Nintendo created prior to the NES.
The book starts with a lengthy, almost year-to-year account of Nintendos history alongside a biography of former company president, Hiroshi Yamauchi. Youll see some of the best-selling inventions of Gunpei Yokoi, including the toys he crafted decades before he helmed the creation of the Game Boy. This book, translated from French, is remarkable informed about a period thats virtually unknown time for many westerners, and we cant wait to see the upcoming sequel that covers the NES years.
Replay: The History of Video Games (Tristan Donovan)
Many of the books on our list cover specific areas of gaming history or offer biographies of important people, but what if you want a little bit of everything? Replay casts one of the widest nets on the industry youre likely to find. Starting with Spacewar! in 1962 and taking readers all the way to Portals release in 2007, this 500-page tome explores seemingly every corner of gaming's history.
Replay covers a little bit of everything, but its its insight into Europe's gaming history along with Americas and Japans should be of particular interest to some readers. Most books published in the US tend to overlook the work of people like Clive Sinclair and Peter Molyneux, or systems like the Commodore and ZX Spectrum. Replay will acquaint many with a facet of the gaming world they likely took for granted, ultimately providing a deeper overall understanding of the chronology of the medium.
Service Games: The Rise and Fall of Sega (Sam Pettus)
These days Sega is the mid-sized publisher of Sonic, Yakuza, and not much else, and its been more than a decade since the company was once a serious competitor to Sony or Nintendo. Today it might seem like Segas downfall was inevitable, but it was actually the result of enough poor decisions, mismanagement, and simple bad luck that youd need a whole book to recount it all. This is that book.
Service Games takes readers from the birth of the company through the launch of the Genesis, onto Sonic the Hedgehog becoming a huge hit and Segas arcade dominance. Then mistakes, such as the 32X, the botched Saturn launch, and too many other bad calls, are detailed to the point that the reasoning behind the companys choice to exit the console race is the only option left. This kind of objective perspective is more useful than ever when console gaming is on the verge of another (potentially tumultuous) transition.
Critical Path: How to Review Games For a Living (Dan Amrich)
Many of these books have the potential to excite and inspire developers, but what about the people that would rather work on the press side of gaming? There have been some books on the topic, but few are as helpful in a practical sense than as Critical Path by Dan Amrich (full disclosure: Amrich once worked at GamesRadar). While its easy to get mired in the more navel gazing aspects when analyzing games journalism, Amrich created an informed guide on how to actually get a job and do it well.
The author puts his years of experience into a friendly reference for all the would-be games journalists out there. He talks about how to pitch your work to an editor, how to improve your writing skills, and how to behave like a professional. And even if you dont currently plan on joining the freelancer ranks, his detailed approach to reviews will have you thinking more critically of the games you play every day.
The Making of Prince of Persia (Jordan Mechner)
Most of the books on here approach gaming history from the outside, but Mechner has been making games since the Apple II days--and he has the journals to prove it. After releasing Karateka in 1984, Mechner went to work on Prince of Persia. As he made this groundbreaking puzzle-platformer, he kept a detailed journal of his struggle with the game, which he shares in The Making of Prince of Persia.
Mechners account gets personal at times, and you get a real feel for whats going on inside someones head as they try to create something. It also gives readers an idea of what the gaming landscape looked like back then, as computer games developers were beginning to feel threatened by the rebirth of the console market. And while blockbuster games like Prince of Persia arent developed by such small teams these days, Mechners story will no doubt give some inspiration to all the would-be indie devs out there.
Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto (David Kushner)
Jacked is Kushners follow-up to Masters of Doom, and while this look at the creation of Grand Theft Auto isnt as good, it has its moments. The early sections are the strongest, as Kushner spoke with several former Rockstar employees that worked in the company pre-GTA III, so theres some new behind-the-scenes information for longtime fans. But once Rockstar takes off, Kushner loses that access due to the Housers and their current employees refusal to give any comments.
The book then shifts some of its focus onto Jack Thompson, a former lawyer thats thankfully invisible in the media these days. Jack may be mildly intriguing just for how increasingly odd and underhanded his ethical battle with Rockstar becomes, but ultimately theres little resolution to his story. Even with the unneeded look at someone as controversial as Thompson, Jacked is a worthwhile account of how one tiny developer would eventually grow into the behemoth it is today.
Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life (Chris Kohler)
Gaming seemed to be a fad that had passed by the mid-1980s, as the business had collapsed almost completely in the US. But the industry was reborn with the launch of the NES and became bigger than ever thanks to Nintendo and many other developers from Japan. Power-Up recounts how Japanese culture informed the creation of unforgettable games like Super Mario Bros. and Final Fantasy, and how said culture unknowingly influenced an entire generation.
Power-Up charts the clear line of kids playing Japanese games and slowly discovering anime and manga, and it details how Japans approach to storytelling and design influenced the industry the world over. Kohler also recounts lesser known stories behind the creation of games like The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest, thanks to a series of exclusive interviews with the people behind those games. The book seems to be out of print, but is worth digging up to see how Japan defined gaming in ways you never realized.
Take a look, its in a book
Do any of these books make you want to start your own gaming book club? And did we overlook any other important accounts of long history? Share your favorite book with us in the comments.