Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter" discusses advances in videogaming and explores the meaning and future of this exploding medium. Bissell discusses his book Thursday at Seattle's University Book Store.

Share story

‘Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter’

by Tom Bissell

Pantheon, 218 pp, $22.95

The video-game industry, writes Tom Bissell in “Extra Lives,” began “as an engineering culture, transformed into a business, and now, like a bright millionaire turning toward poetry, (has) confident but uncertain aspirations toward art.”

Bissell believes it’s time that this art form, however nascent, answered some big questions: Can games offer profound aesthetic experiences? What compels a person to spend hours engaged in shooting, bludgeoning, road-killing and pretty much making a bloody mess of things on-screen?

If your last contact with a video game was “Pong,” you’ll be staggered by how far the medium has advanced.

Yet this book won’t get you to care enough to buy an Xbox. Passages explaining a particular game’s characters and levels become tiresome, and Bissell’s interesting ideas feel haphazardly arranged.

Still, for anyone who has spent a weekend thrilled by the prospect of beating a game, “Extra Lives” will cast the addiction in a new, cerebral light. Bissell’s reflections on how he has been affected by his play, especially when it was paired with his once-endless craving for cocaine, add an unexpected poignancy. But like a player encountering the “Game Over” screen, the reader is left sighing for more.