G&G Reads: A Brief History of Video Games

Is it worth the read? And does it enlighten the non-gamer?

By Stuart Holden

Author: Richard Stanton

First Published: 2015

Length: 368 pages

 

Who is it aimed at?

When I first picked up the book, I assumed that it was for non-gamers and gamers alike, if not to say for the former specifically. And through the first third of the book, that would be the case, for it focuses on older game consoles that most people these days aren’t familiar with, putting all of the readers on the same page.

It was easier for me to follow along with most of the early video games the author references, because I have actually played rereleased version of them growing up. I wonder if I can only Arelate to the first part of this book because I know how those early games work, how it feels to play them and the reactions that follow.

Now why is this important? I will admit early on, I actually had a hard time liking the book. I talk more about the individual things that I found off-putting about it later, but I wanted to focus on this specific note.

I found that throughout the book, it was hard as a non-hardcore gamer to be able to understand the author’s enthusiasm about various games. In other words, you would have had to play them to be able to relate to his viewpoint, only because I feel that he didn’t do a great job conveying his opinion.

As I mentioned above, I could fairly understand his emotional expressions on the early Atari games, only because I’ve actually played them. But when it comes to the PC version of Wolfenstein (which I haven’t played), it’s a whole different ballgame.

Which begs the question: for all of the readers that haven’t played any of the games cited in the book, would they be able to follow along with much zeal?

So I couldn’t say that even the first third is easy to understand, since I had the advantage of having some prior knowledge; someone without that may find it difficult to read.

 

Who should read it?

This book in the long run is best aimed, at minimum, to the semi experienced video gamer who has some knowledge of video games and their history.

However, anyone with an interest in video games should probably give it a shot just to better inform themselves in that genre.

If I were recommending a book to someone completely ignorant on the matter, I would try to find another book first before giving them this one.

 

Glossing over the contents of the book

I’ve broken the book up into main sections, going over each one and talking about the main outlook overall.

-Pre video games

Starting with the Atomic bomb, Richard Stanton talks about how the invention of the television set and the early digital computers led to the earliest of simple video games. Most of these games never saw the mainstream public, being that they were too expensive and too large to be manufactured for common use.

For me, this was the easiest part to read, mostly as it was a simple history lesson with a well written narrative progression. Stanton didn’t overdo it on the facts, keeping it to a minimum.

-Video games in the labs

Still mainly taking place in college labs, we see the progression of the digital age, along with the progression of game dynamics. Keep in mind, games will always become more developed, more complicated as technology progresses. So as the book continues, it focuses also on how the games become more complicated to play.

-First arcade games

We see Atari come into the spotlight with their first, and world’s first, digital video game, taking shape in the form of an arcade machine: Atari’s Arcade Pong. The mammoth game console became mainly popular in American bars and arcades. Atari follows up with more digital arcade games, such as Pac Man and Centipede, but Stanton tells his audience that the market then wanted home consoles for private use. I really like this part of the book; it’s engaging and I feel that could relate to it, even as a non-hardcore gamer. Perhaps it’s because the author focuses less on how to play the game, and more the production and politics that went into the game making.

-First mass produced video game consoles

Still in the days of old-fashioned video games, the book moves to the history of the first home consoles. Richard included very high end professional pictures of these ancient machines.

I must say, if the book did anything well, it was the photos, particularly of the home consoles. Not exclusive to any particular decade, any one of them is amazing to look at with the entire game system, including controllers, in the picture. Screenshots of game play are in hi-resolution  too, but I’ll get around to those later.

-first PC games

I must say I started to drift off in interest right around this point. Being that at the time, these new games could be played on a personal computer, all the game manufacture had to do was develop software that could be used on one. So Stanton I believe sees no need to describe the development of home computers and decides to start focusing on what happens in the game instead. I do admit that it was probably a necessary evil since it would not have been beneficial for the reader to know all the facts of development for PCs. After all, this is on the history of video games, not Personal Computers.

-Rise of PC games

This part mostly discusses gaming in the 1990s, and Stanton mainly just talks about which games impacted the market or what each one is like. This is where I feel you have to be a well-knowledged gamer to understand what he is talking about. For me, it went right over my head. Either the games are too complicated to explain, or he’s just bad at explaining them; I honestly wouldn’t know. I’ve stated before that I thought that he didn’t even do the best at explaining the ones that I have played, anyway. He went on to talk about how the games began to have more processing power and had better graphics, but I didn’t really get much benefit from this as reader.

-Return of home consoles

We see in the book the return of home consoles, an example being Microsoft’s Xbox. There’s a few important games mentioned, but the author talks for a stretch about games that he obviously likes, to the exclusion of almost everything else. This is evident I believe due to the fact the some entire chapters talk about nothing other than one individual game. The fact the one chapter is titled after Grand Theft Auto tells just where the author’s bias lies.

And that’s pretty much the rest of the book, no longer entirely educational, just talking about his favorite games to play. I enjoyed early segments of the book describing the development of the gaming industry, but became disappointed when he began focussing on individual games.

 

The difficulties of reading the book

I previously talked about how well the first third was written, in writing style alone. However, what I didn’t say was how hard the individual text was to read.

I believe due to the content the author and publishers wanted the book to feel more contemporary, with a less traditional format. The individual sentences were put into bullet point style formats box text, with only one sentence roughly per box. And there were only about four total sentences per page.

That was the other thing that got on my nerves, only about half of the pages were taken up in words, with a big section on the bottom, left for pictures. But only every other page had an image, meaning half of the pages in the book are half blank. Coupled with the font style, the letters were almost transparent against the all white background making it hard to see them at times.

One other thing about the layout was that due to the sentence structure and picture layout, there’s 368 pages, 359 pages in words alone, excluding the index and references. I do suspect that if it was not published in the way I’ve criticized, over all it would most likely only be about a hundred pages; the poor layout therefore made the book feel longer and more tedious to read than it should have.

I’ve already said that I thought that Stanton interjected more of his opinions than necessary, but it seems like it goes up a notch towards the end, which makes the reading significantly harder.

Also, one more thing to object to, Stanton’s description of gameplay. I’ve noticed that it often seemed irrelevant to describe it, and when he did, it was a poor job, leaving the reader often confused. But I’ve battered the poor author enough, so let’s move on to the good things.  

 

The things I liked about the book

A broad number of games were mentioned; he covers a lot of different kinds of games that have been released over the years. There was also a thorough narrative history on the games, that is until it reached PC games; then it became more fanboy-oriented.

There were also great, high-resolution pictures throughout the book. Some were pictures of the original home consoles or arcade games; others were screenshots of the game in action. Clearly, whoever was in charge of them knew what they were doing. The images add a good visual dimension to the book, and I doubt I would have made it through the book if it were not for them.

Considering that some of the games that the book talks about are rather graphic and gory, it’s helpful that Stanton does his best to keep the gore to a minimum. This is important since most of our modern American culture does not feel generally comfortable about most video games. If nothing else, this might be an okay bridge for people who aren’t as familiar with them, with no need of exposing them to any questionable content.

 

I hope everyone will find this article have found it helpful, and have a better understanding of the book. We expect to be sharing our thoughts on more books in the future, so make sure to keep following us all at Gospel and Gaming for more book reactions, game reviews, and more!

 

Stuart Holden is a volunteer with Gospel & Gaming.