on 17 December 2003
The title of Barry Atkins’ new book, MORE THAN A GAME responds directly to the ‘just a game’ with which many people dismiss the computer game and its place in our cultural history. Except of course when the same people find it useful to lay the blame for society’s ills on the computer game, at which point the pixelated bloodshed and mayhem are seen to be much more than a game. The claims of this new book are nowhere near as bold as to posit a relationship between computer gaming and acts of senseless violence - although I don’t doubt that in some quarters they will be met with at least as much scepticism. Barry Atkins’ claim, almost a request, is that computer games deserve the status of fictional narratives.
What follows is one of the first, and I hope that it will be the first of many, academic works dedicated to the study of computer games. Through readings of Tomb Raider, Half-Life, Close Combat and SimCity Atkins develops a compelling argument about the types of narrative offered by the current crop of computer games from the closely defined world that is typified by Lara Croft’s oft repeated ‘no’ to the apparent open-endedness, and seeming pointlessness, of the world of SimCity.
What guarantees the success of MORE THAN A GAME is Atkins’ enthusiasm for his subject, he’s clearly played a lot of games, and despite the complexity of the issues it covers the book is a brilliantly lucid and entertaining read. I highly recommend this book for its thought provoking study of narrative, its brilliant discussion of computer gaming and its extremely enjoyable style. If you’ve ever thought there might be more to playing games than shuffling the mouse this is the book for you.