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on 12 January 2018
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on 3 May 2014
Tom Bissell writes both eloquently and interestingly. Through his eyes we can see a lot of gamedev backstage, as well as some of his private and intimate moments. It's a good, but casual read. Academics and game developers might find it somewhat lacking.
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on 8 May 2014
Book itself was a good read.
But the pages were strangly cut as if the book itself was one for the rubbish bin.
Oh well it was still readable.
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on 7 August 2015
An extremely entertaining read for anybody who is a fan of video games. I spent a lot of time grinning and nodding as I flicked through the pages.
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on 2 September 2010
I Love Videogames.

Because of this I read a lot of news on a website called IGN.

Because of this I became aware of, and read articles authored by, Michael Thomsen. He wrote articles about games that made me think beyond my blind love of them, they made me expect more from them, they frustrated me because they pointed out the obvious flaws that had only previously existed only in my subconscious during gameplay.

Michael Thomsen did an interview with author Tom Bissell who wrote a book called Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. This book simultaneously recited my hopes for gaming as a medium, as well as lamenting how pathetic most videogame's attempts at narrative were and continue to be. It shared my most personal emotional experiences with games and gave me insight into some of the industry's visionaries.

Tom Bissell wrote about people like Jonathan Blow (Braid), and Clint Hocking (Splinter Cell/Chaos Theory, Far Cry 2), Leigh Alexander, Michael Abbot, who wrote or talked about games in such interesting ways, taking game critique to analytical levels that I'd previously only experienced in media theory.

I have since played the masterpiece that is Braid. I don't want to talk about it. I just want people to go and experience it for themselves, give it their time, and their thought.

I have played Far Cry 2, found the experience unpleasant, I persevered, grew accustomed to the awful things it asks the player to do, and then finally realised: thats the point! Its an FPS, its about shooting people in a war torn african country as a mercenary with malaria, you should feel like a bastard until you become an unfeeling monster. What else should you expect from a game were the play revolves around the single most violent and disturbing act a human can commit against other humans. Murder. Far Cry 2 is an important game because it goes so far beyond "its just a game", and "games should be fun", that it makes a point about the human condition through its gameplay. How many games do you know that do that?

This book introduced me to these industry visionaries and games whilst putting them into the context of the author's life and his experiences with them. Its an extraordinary, and important book.
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on 2 January 2011
If you like Douglas Coupland or Hunter S Thompson and you are interested in games - even a little - you will enjoy this book. Tom Bissell is a passionate gamer and a gifted writer. In beautifully flowing and highly entertaining prose he explains why he loves playing and in doing so shows why video games are an important medium

The book is really a collection of stand alone essays each of which describes a particular game - some profile or at least interview leading games designers. It feels as if each one might have originally been written as a magazine piece. But it is the theme of video games which pulls it all together. And the book is far more than a tribute to games it is an invaluable guide to why they are playing such a significant role in the evolution of other types of media and indeed of society

As an example of his style when describing the game Left 4 Dead : " [the game] is so emotionally gruelling, it will feel like you spent an hour playing something like full-contact psychic football" His depiction of encountering his first zombie is Resident Evil is a gripping as playing the game itself. As is his description of the African savannah which features in Far Cry 2

The games industry is ambitious for itself. Bissell quotes one of its leading designers Peter Molyneux "The games industry.... has this dream that one day it's going to be real. We're going to have real life. We're going to have real characters. We're going to have real drama. We're going to change the world and entertain in a way that nothing else has ever before"

For die-hard game enthusiasts Extra Lives should be an enjoyable new perspective on games they love. Although some may feel cheated that their own favourites were not on Bissell's list. For those of us with less immersion it is an enjoyable insight into an important phenomenon.
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on 18 April 2017
Not a fan. I read this for a class and had to force myself to get all the way through it. Bissell doesn't actually discuss 'why video games matter' or go in-depth about design or development of games like I was hoping, he talks more about some games he's liked throughout his life and why. His writing isn't great- he seems like the kind of guy who really likes the sound of his own voice.

Some real eh moments included too, kind of superfluously? One vaguely off-topic chapter is just about how Bissell spent a year addicted to cocaine and playing a lot of GTA. In one chapter he talks about walking in to Ubisoft and seeing so many women he thought they hired an escort service. Gross.
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on 17 February 2012
Video games have got a pretty bad reputation really. Blamed for violence, anti-social behaviour and a lot of societies other ills they don't get good press coverage. This book is one man's attempt to explain why video games matter. Its done by using several games he has played (all console games such as Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, GTAIV and others) to explain this and also interviewing some of the designers of those games.

There are some parts of this book that work very well. The description of the beginning of Resident Evil was very funny and reminded me of my first play of that game. The parts on GTA rampages also made me laugh, I am never that inventive. You can obviously tell that the author has a love/hate relationship with many of these games. The appendices are great and the interview with Sir Peter Molyneux (designer of Fable) is very good indeed. What doesn't work so well is when it veers into an almost university textbook density of technical narrative discussion particularly when it discusses ludo narrative dissonance repeatedly. This term refers to when the cut scenes run counter to the players controllable actions. Or rather than the player is killing without a whim and yet the cut scenes portray that character as an angel (as an example). This is an important point but the book gets too bogged down with it. I also didn't enjoy the final GTAIV section where the authors own addiction to cocaine is also included and compared to a video game. For an author who is trying to explain why video games matter this is neither helpful or wise in my opinion.

Its a good book. But suffers from ludo narrative dissonance in itself. Its author claims to love games. But too often it reads that he likes games but gets frustrated with them even more. Thereby defeating the object. I did enjoy it. The section on Fallout 3 has made me start that game again. I recommend the book for gamers. But I don't love it and find it as frustrating as the author finds many of the games he discusses because of the reasons above.
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on 6 March 2013
I loved reading this book. The interviews give a lot of insite about the backstage of game development and made me go back and play most of the games.
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on 5 July 2010
Excellent read. Even though I had not played some of the games discussed, the way that the author has described his experiences within the game worlds brings memories of similar feelings experienced in other titles. After reading this book you start to see games through new eyes, thinking in much more detail about how it affects you and how you want to be affected by a game.

Many people think games as just that, games, but they are fast becoming the new art form for the 21st century. Mr Bissell discusses many high points and the limitation of games in a way that is thought provoking and insightful.
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