extra lives


Bissell was born in 1974, which puts him on the cusp of gaming’s generational divide. That transitional position affords him a perspective not unlike — if you’ll indulge the grandiose analogy — that of Tocqueville or McLuhan, figures who stood on the bridges of two great ages, welcoming the horizon while also mourning what the world was leaving behind. Bissell sees video games with open eyes. His book is about the profoundly ambivalent experience of playing them — close readings (close playings?) mostly of big-budget action and science fiction titles for consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation. These are the games most likely to draw a disparaging remark from a United States senator or a newspaper film critic. “Extra Lives” is a celebration of why they matter, but it is also a jeremiad about “why they do not matter more.” Bissel, a contributing editor at Har­per’s Magazine who teaches fiction writing at Portland State University, cops to spending more than 200 hours playing one game, some 80 hours another. “The pleasures of literary connection seem leftover and familiar,” he writes. “Today, the most consistently pleasurable pursuit in my life is playing video games.” He says this despite encountering “appalling” dialogue, despite hearing actors give line readings of “autistic miscalculation,” despite despairing over the sense that gamers and game designers have embraced “an unnecessary hostility between the greatness of a game and the sophistication of things such as narrative, dialogue, dramatic motivation and characterization.” Despite all this, the interactive nature of video games enables moments that Bissell calls “as gripping as any fiction I have come across.”

more from Chris Suellentrop at the NYT here.