The best books to defend your video game obsession to non-gamers

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a lifelong video game obsessive. I think about video game worlds and my relationship with them in the ways most people think about family vacations to the beach or a trip with friends to Las Vegas. Every game I play is an opportunity to experience a new world, and a new culture, and to change myself along the way. Video games are a younger industry than either the music industry or the movie industry, but it’s more than 2.5x bigger than those two industries combined! There are reasons humans are so enamored by video games. The books on my list explore those reasons.

I wrote...

Suddenly I was a Shark! My Time with What Remains of Edith Finch

By Caleb J. Ross,

Book cover of Suddenly I was a Shark! My Time with What Remains of Edith Finch

What is my book about?

Video games are real. They have real impacts on real lives. No video game has changed my own life more than What Remains of Edith Finch.

In Suddenly I was a Shark! My Time with What Remains of Edith Finch, I explore the life-changing impact of this unassuming video game about a young woman’s attempt to understand a curse that has killed every member of her family. By mixing developer interviews, personal stories, and examinations of the game’s many literary inspirations, I deliver a powerful story of personal change via one of the most important walking simulator video games ever made.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How to Do Things with Videogames

Caleb J. Ross Why did I love this book?

Despite the implications of the title, this book is not a how-to book about repurposing Nintendo game cartridges as drink coasters. It’s even better than that (and this is coming from someone who actually does use old, non-functioning game cartridges as drink coasters). 

How to Do Things with Videogames is a plea to non-gaming industries to embrace video games as tools to advance their own products and services. While video game mechanics and visuals have certainly matured since their introduction in the 1970s—and that is all quite interesting—Ian Bogost’s book isn’t interested in how humans have advanced video games but instead in how video games could advance humans.

I’ll give a specific example that has stuck with me since my first read of this book. Humans are great with spatial awareness. Video games have an amazing ability to leverage this capability for fun. But why not leverage this capability to potentially save lives? Flight attendants on commercial airplanes are forced to point out airplane exits during safety demonstrations (often to disinterested passengers).

Why not instead use the tiny screen mounted to the seat headrests to give passengers-turned-players the ability to navigate to the emergency exits in a virtual space? With this, passengers get a better understanding of the physical placement of emergency exists and therefore could act more efficiently in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Tell your non-gaming friends: video games could save lives!

By Ian Bogost,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Do Things with Videogames as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In recent years, computer games have moved from the margins of popular culture to its center. Reviews of new games and profiles of game designers now regularly appear in the New York Times and the New Yorker, and sales figures for games are reported alongside those of books, music, and movies. They are increasingly used for purposes other than entertainment, yet debates about videogames still fork along one of two paths: accusations of debasement through violence and isolation or defensive paeans to their potential as serious cultural works. In How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost contends that such…

Book cover of Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry

Caleb J. Ross Why did I love this book?

Sometimes, defending your video game obsession means acknowledging that the video game industry is flawed. It’s best not to avoid necessary conversations about the negative impacts that video games can have on families and on personal health.

But while it would be tempting to cite flawed studies about games as a precursor to violence (a sub-recommendation for more about such flawed studies would be The Gaming Mind: A New Psychology of Videogames and the Power of Play by Alexander Kriss), Jason Schreier’s book instead digs into the “industry” part of the video games industry to explore systemic problems like overwork, the lack of unionization, and incredible wealth inequality.

The video game industry is huge (like, really huge. Like, 2.5x the size of the movie and music industry combined huge). Its enormity, combined with its lack of regulation and oversight, makes for a difficult foundation on which to build a life.

Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry is the reason I stopped pursuing a career change into the video game industry. The lack of job security scared me.

Tell your non-gaming friends: the video games industry is so much bigger than you think it is!

By Jason Schreier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Press Reset as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. From the bestselling author of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels comes the next definitive, behind-the-scenes account of the video game industry: how some of the past decade's most renowned studios fell apart-and the stories, both triumphant and tragic, of what happened next.

Jason Schreier's groundbreaking reporting has earned him a place among the preeminent investigative journalists covering the world of video games. In his eagerly anticipated, deeply researched new book, Schreier trains his investigative eye on the volatility of the video game industry and the resilience of the people who work in it.

The business…

Book cover of Breakout: Pilgrim in the Microworld

Caleb J. Ross Why did I love this book?

David Sudnow’s Breakout: Pilgrim in the Microworld is perhaps the earliest account of a person’s obsession with a video game.

Sudnow’s diary-like approach to his relationship with the 1976 arcade game Breakout is captivating. It reads like improv jazz (which isn’t surprising considering Sudnow himself was an accomplished jazz pianist).

For example, here’s Sudnow describing the moments before starting the final phase of his longest game so far: “I feel the attempted seduction of the long lobbing interim, a calm before the storm, the action so laid back that I’m consciously elaborating a rhythm to be ready, set, go for a slam.”

Sudnow shows us that what might seem like simple bleeps and bloops to most people can instead be a life-affirming awakening to others. And how can something so powerful not warrant respect?

Tell your non-gaming friends: video games are poetry!

By David Sudnow,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Breakout as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just as the video game console market was about to crash into the New Mexico desert in 1983, musician and sociologist David Sudnow was unearthing the secrets of “eye, mind, and the essence of video skill” through an exploration of Atari's Breakout, one of the earliest hits of the arcade world.

Originally released under the title Pilgrim in the Microworld, Sudnow's groundbreaking longform criticism of a single game predates the rise of serious game studies by decades. While its earliest critics often scorned the idea of a serious book about an object of play, the book's modern readers remain fascinated…

Book cover of Gamelife: A Memoir

Caleb J. Ross Why did I love this book?

Where David Sudnow’s Breakout: Pilgrim in the Microworld focused on the flamboyant poetry of gaming, Michael W. Clune’s Gamelife opts for minimalism.

Clune himself describes the book as a memoir about computer games, which is true, and that description alone warrants inclusion in my list. Why? Any topic that can be a lens through which to reflect on one’s own life is noteworthy.

Clune isn’t a game developer recounting a life spent developing games. Clune isn’t a games industry executive doling out business advice. Clune is a gamer with a childhood he’s able to better understand when filtered through video games.

Tell your non-gaming friends: video games are therapy!

By Michael W. Clune,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Gamelife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In telling the story of his youth through seven computer games, critically acclaimed author Michael W. Clune (White Out) captures the part of childhood we live alone.

You have been awakened.

Floppy disk inserted, computer turned on, a whirring, and then this sentence, followed by a blinking cursor. So begins Suspended, the first computer game to obsess seven-year-old Michael, to worm into his head and change his sense of reality. Thirty years later he will write: "Computer games have taught me the things you can't learn from people."

Gamelife is the memoir of a childhood transformed by technology. Afternoons spent…

Book cover of Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People who Play Them

Caleb J. Ross Why did I love this book?

Getting Gamers shows us that the science of video games is the science of human interaction. In fact, some game development studios staff teams of psychologists and researchers, and sometimes those teams use virtual spaces as testing environments for psychology theories.

How does physical appearance prime social interactions (ie, the Proteus Effect), for example? With the wealth of avatar customization options available to gamers, we can carefully articulate and test our assumptions of interactions in groups using MMOs (massive multiplayer online games).

Tell your non-gaming friends: video games remind us that we are human!

By Jamie Madigan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Getting Gamers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Video games are big business. They can be addicting. They are available almost anywhere you go and are appealing to people of all ages. They can eat up our time, cost us money, even kill our relationships. But it's not all bad! This book will show that rather than being a waste of time, video games can help us develop skills, make friends, succeed at work, form good habits, and be happy. Taking the time to learn what's happening in our heads as we play and shop allows us to approach games and gaming communities on our own terms and…

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Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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