Take a gaming break to read these 10 great books about the hobby you love

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Compared to other art forms, the video game industry is still in its infancy. The publishing industry is still catching up to the medium’s rapid rise. While there aren’t as many book about games as there are about film and literature, there is definitely a growing canon of fascinating books about the medium and its history. In no particular order, here are 10 of the very best books about games, touching upon a wide variety of subjects and games that influenced us to gravitate towards this interactive medium.

Spelunky by Derek Yu

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From game-centric publisher Boss Fight BooksSpelunky Derek Yu details the development of his rogue-like platformer, now regarded as one of the greatest indie games of all time. Yu’s autobiographical story lays out his influences, and his emergence in the game industry. What’s most fascinating about Spelunky, though, is Yu’s incredibly in-depth explanations — including graphs and diagrams — of how he designed his procedurally generated platformer. It’s a great book for the fans of the game, as well as aspiring game developers.

Price: $5+
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Amazon Boss Flight Books

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris

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Tom Kalinske isn’t a household name by any stretch of the imagination, but his role in the video game industry in the early- to mid-1990s was staggering. Sega was floundering against Nintendo in 1991 when Kalinske, a man who revived both Hot Wheels and Barbie at Mattel, was brought on to shake things up. The result? A toe-to-toe console war that still defines the video game industry. Harris’ book provides a fascinating look inside the grand battle between Nintendo vs. Sega — a war in which, many of us forget, Sega was winning for a time. It’s a can’t-miss history for anyone who grew up adoring 8- and 16-bit games on Nintendo and Sega consoles. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are currently working on a film adaptation.

Price: $9-10
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Masters of Doom by David Kushner

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It isn’t entirely unreasonable to describe John Carmack and John Romero as the Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of video games. While they shared a love for games, Carmack and Romero had vastly different personalities and styles. Their personal differences likely contributed to their success as a team, but also created rifts that would eventually end their partnership. Kushner’s now classic biography of the men behind Doom, Quake, and Castle Wolfenstein follows the duo’s path from their troubled youth, to menial jobs, to the founding of id Software and the creation of their most well-known games, titles that changed PC gaming forever.

At Id, Carmack and Romero became the video game equivalent of rockstars. It’s a gripping read, one that touches on their games’ influence on popular culture at large, the good and the bad, and will give you a greater perspective on the FPS genre and PC gaming in general.

Price: $13
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Gamelife by Michael Clune

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Michael Clune fell in love with video games the first time he played little known computer game Suspended when he was seven years old. After that, the young introvert jumped into more solo adventures, learning what he would later write as “the things you can’t learn from people.” Unlike some of the other entries on this list, Clune’s book revolves around his personal experiences with comparatively lesser known titles, including Elite, Ultima III: Exodus, and Pirates! Clune’s meditation on the games that shaped his understanding of the world provides a considerably deeper look at how the human psyche is influenced, and sometimes even altered, by the games we play.

Price: $10-12
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Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

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Critical looks at the video game phenomenon aren’t as widely available as you would think. The industry, which has surpassed even Hollywood in revenue, is still in relative infancy. In a mix of personal essays, interviews, and criticism, game writer Tom Bissell attempts to answer the question: Why are we so drawn to video games? Why does this interactive form matter? If you’re interested in analyzing video games from a critical — but highly readable — lens, look no further.

Price: $12
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Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

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We typically view entertainment as a means to escape our everyday lives for a temporary interval of time. Your everyday gamer most likely views controller sessions as a way to destress, and as an avenue to block out the real world by taking control of the life of fictitious character. Game designer Jane McGonigal knows this to be true, but she also presents an admirable case for games as a solution to the world’s constantly multiplying problems. From retooling education, to revolutionizing business, to more personal issues like mental illness, she posits that the games that most of us play can, in some capacity, provide for the greater good. It’s a book that will get you thinking about games as more than just a medium for fun.

Price: $9-14
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The Tetris Effect: The Game that Hypnotized the World by Dan Ackerman

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Tetris is probably the most recognizable video game of all time. The seminal puzzle game debuted nearly 33 years ago, but as CNET editor Dan Ackerman points out, the game is still played today — a rarity, since most games fail to hold players’ attention for more than a few months. Ackerman’s book sets out to examine why the world has remained so enamored with the puzzle game to this day. Half-origin story, half-cultural commentary, Ackerman leaves no block unturned, fitting the pieces together with effortless precision.

Price: $16-17
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The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985-1993 by Jordan Mechner and Danica Novgorodoff

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Have you ever wanted to know what its like to be inside the mind of someone on the verge of a creative breakthrough? In 1989, game developer Jordan Mechner released Prince of Persia, on the Apple II. The game, which Mechner made entirely on his own, was roundly applauded by critics, and eventually became a classic that inspired a major cross-media franchise spanning more than 10 games and a feature film.

The Making of Prince of Persia compiles eight years of Mechner’s personal journals, which chronicle his thoughts as broke into the video game industry, and created Prince of Persia. From his missteps to his triumphs, Mechner’s book  provides a raw look at his journey

Price: $8-15
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All Your Base Are Belong to Us by Harold Goldberg

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BioShock. World of Warcraft. Super Mario Bros. Grand Theft Auto. Madden. All five games represent vastly different genres and style, but they all share one thing: They contributed to the rise of video games in popular culture. Game critic Harold Goldberg looks back at 50 years of gaming history to explain how and why the medium became so pervasive, and spoke with some of the industry’s most lauded designers, including Ken Levine and the famously closed off Houser brothers, among others.

Price: $9-15
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Hyrule Historia by Patrick Thorpe and Michael Gombos

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You could call this low-hanging fruit, since a coffee table book about the history of Hyrule is bound to be of interest to anyone who has gotten their hands on one of the many excellent and often game changing Legend of Zelda games. Then again, a list about video game books would feel incomplete without the tome that finally unraveled the series’ confusing, oft-debated timeline. Originally released in Japan alongside The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, this weighty compendium is meticulously detailed, with full color concept art and a surprising amount of textual commentary and revelations about the long running franchise. To put it simply, if you’re even a bit of a Zelda fan, it should be on your shelf.

Price: $22
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Disclosure: The author of this piece has written for the New York Videogame Critics Circle, which is edited by ‘All Your Base are Belong to Us’ author Harold Goldberg.


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