on 8 April 2013
I found the subtitle of this book is misleading in four ways, but that might just be my bad. Firstly, Charfield deals with video games here, not games of other kinds. Second, he does not focus much on their psychology or sociology, the 'why' of the title, but their 'what'. Third, the trends he traces are in their infancy, they are becoming, they 'are' not yet. And fourth, 'business' might imply a narrow fixation on work; Chatfield roams wider here, without in any way getting into the area of how-to, so abandon hope of business tips if you entre here.
As an author on the subject of video games, Chatfield is informed, immersed and balanced. He know his subject inside out, loves what he writes about, has reflected deeply upon it, but is able to tease out weaknesses and threats. His writing style leans toward the unsmiling, which is fitting for a book on 'serious' gaming. There are ample sources cited (books, articles, reports, presentations, magazines, websites, and games). I didn't appreciate his habit of quoting these without direct references, but that's my equivalent of OCD.
Since this is the this edition's first review on Amazon UK the best service I can provide is to give potential buyers and other interested parties a taste of what each chapter holds, as their names don't help much.
Chapter 1: The fun instinct. Chatfield offers a flash history of games in general, the work/play dichotomy that we've lived with up until now, and an examination of that slippery word 'fun'.
Chapter 2: Technology and magic. Chatfield reminisces on the brief history of videogames.
Chapter 3: A license to print money. Chatfield weighs the business and profit of the games industry, including social and casual gaming. "The most successful games of all are those that come closest to real life, not in terms of ever more expensively produced realistic sounds and images, but in terms of the range of social action and opportunities for expression they offer... [Gaming] is not only the world's fastest growing medium, but also the fastest growing area of global expertise in how to entertain, retain and connect twenty-first-century consumers." (ps. 37, 38)
Chapter 4: A beautiful science. This quality chapter covers the concepts of flow/optimal experience, the avatar, the hero's journey model and other goodies (e.g. the four motivations of gamers, and the four emotions released during play). Csikszentmihalyi's concept of 'flow' is never far away in this book, or in others covering similar material. Ditto Joseph Campbell.
Chapter 5: Dangerous playground. Chatfield faces the charges of game violence and addiction, and makes a strong defensive case for their prosocial status.
Chapter 6: The Warcraft effect. Far from being "cultish", games such as WoW encourage shared experience and a life "thick with obligations, judgments and allegiances", even testing and training in leadership qualities in a totally leveled or meritorious (virtual) world.
Chapter 7: Clouds and flowers. This beautiful chapter presents game creation as a complex art form, a medium worthy of pride and excellence, capable of producing profound aesthetic experiences.
Chapter 8: Second lives. Chatfield examines the interaction and convergence of the game-playing world with real life so that traditional dichotomies - games and movies/music, product and mindset, work and leisure, escape and engagement, one's actual and virtual selves - are overcome.
Chapter 9: Serious play. Forget the Lego; instead Chatfield application of game design to a variety of "serious' activities", from research in the social sciences, to motivation theory, to economics and money. Chatfield includes an excellent description of what we now call the 'gamification' of a product and illustrates it with YouTube (163-5).
Chapter 10: Beyond fun. This amounts to a grim but necessary excursion into non-funny worlds where games are making an impact: politics, the military, medicine and education. I particularly appreciate Chatfield's mild criticism of political lobbyists and charity workers who create non-game games that avoid fun due to their subject matter, and end up avoiding engagement too (185-6).
Chapter 11: Future Inc.? Chatfield end with a somewhat fuzzy, open-ended look (what else?) at the technologies, controversies and possibilities of the future.
Can I say something anal in conclusion? This book would have succeeded in collecting five, full points if it had subheadings and a bit of bite (aka Jane McGonigal). The material in each chapter is insightful and informed, but all the different topics meld together into one, seamless splurge. Part of my purpose in writing a review like this was to enable my brain to pull those pieces apart.
If you want to get a taste of Chatfield's style and concerns, you might want to listen to his TED Talk, entitled "7 ways games reward the brain" (TEDGlobal 2010).