Monday, 20 May 2013

You Is A Good Book

Or why you should read You, by Austin Grossman

I don't understand how "Gamer" has become a cultural signifier. I mean, I enjoy video and computer games and grew up with an N64 and an XBOX and various behind-the-curve PCs. I remember hours  spent killing my friends in first person shooters, epic arguments about fighting game conduct, the names and places and story details of my favourite RPGs, and deciding all games that involve timed jumping puzzles are absolute bullshit forever. But video games were always a pastime for me; a not-serious-enough-to-call-a-hobby activity to occupy an idle afternoon. And now, with a career, and a partner, actual hobbies, and a shortage of idle afternoons, electronic games have kind of been left behind. So I am constantly a little mystified that there is a whole society of people for whom enjoying electronic games isn't just their hobby, but has become their IDENTITY. To me, it's always seemed a bit like someone who likes to golf on the weekends telling people that they are culturally a Golfer. Or a Longjumper. Or a Bumper Car-er. I guess what I'm trying to say is that despite getting the appeal of the activity, I don't understand how people can call themselves Gamers.

You is a story about video games. Set in 1997, incidentally about the time of my first console and first computer worth the name, You follows Russel, an adrift outsider, turning to a job making computer games for Black Arts, a company forged by his high school friends Simon, a deceased coding genius and outsider, Darren, a charismatic and visionary designer, and Lisa, the savvy programmer and obligate female hero. Can Russel find his place in the world, discover the flaw in the WAFFLE game engine hidden deep in his own history, and help create the Greatest video game ever on deadline? You will have to be the judge.

Structurally You weaves its central narrative through a broader question of what videogames are. By staging its "present day" story elements at a game developer, You provides an insider view into what video games literally are and the process of making them. You also manages to be a pretty thorough survey of the history of video games, from their inception on underpowered computers to the dawning of the modern console age, by having Russel play through Black Arts' games in his bug fixing quest. The brilliance of You is that it takes these two mildly dry topics and seamlessly integrates them into the core narrative about Russel finding his place in the world: lots of interesting exposition delivered in an emotionally satisfying story. If you are curious about video games, You is a satisfying read.

But for me the real magic of You is that it explains who Gamers are and why they exist. Russel's and Simon's and Darren's and Lisa's search for meaning, for escape, and for a quest bigger than themselves tells the story of Gamers, who they are, and why video games are so important to them. I kind of get it now.

I would recommend You to anyone interested in video games: be they Gamer, hobbyist, or afternoon waster. I'd also recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Soon I Will Be Invincible, because You has that same mix of accessible, loving exposition coupled to a fun, engaging story. You was a very satisfying read.

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