The best video game books of 2023

You is likely to be aware of the small assortment of books about video video games that seem in each Barnes & Noble. Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. Masters of Doom. Console Wars. The limitless pile of novels set in the Halo universe. And in case you’re at a very cool bookstore, they may even have Rise of the Videogame Zinesters.

These books have develop into Gamer Canon for good cause, however yearly we get a brand new crop of nice game books that, for no matter cause, don’t get the eye they deserve.

So this 12 months, with the vacations approaching, we wish to highlight the best new video game books of 2023. The assortment spans from academia to arcades, together with quick however highly effective requires trade change and lengthy and relaxed excursions of forgotten retro gems.

Have you ever learn one thing new that’s not on the record, however ought to be? Tell us within the feedback!

A Handheld History

Picture: Misplaced in Cult

Misplaced in Cult produces some of essentially the most stunning designs within the video game guide house. The artwork avoids the retro cliches, the textual content is clear and readable, and the video games get a presentation that’s pristine however by no means sterile. Cracking the backbone of a Misplaced in Cult guide is like visiting a brand new trendy artwork museum that hasn’t given strategy to curatorial stuffiness and a long time of established coverage.

A Handheld History, in my humble opinion, is its most instantly interesting work. I imply, simply take a look at that structure for Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Bother, a game I’m not so sure warrants this a lot TLC. That’s the trick of Misplaced in Cult, although. It treats each game with the love and curiosity in any other case reserved for essentially the most die-hard followers.

The Stuff Games Are Made Of

A collection of geometric objects rest on sand dunes on the cover of The Stuff Games Are Made of by Pippin Barr.

Picture: MIT Press

You may perceive quite a bit in regards to the work of Pippin Barr by studying the outline of his newest undertaking: “Super Mario Nothing is kind of a ROM hack of Super Mario Bros. for the NES. Except the hack is to delete everything while making sure the game still runs.”

Barr falls someplace between satirist, courtroom jester, and mental provocateur, although none of these fairly match. Whereas Barr’s video games typically have easy premises, his philosophy is each richer and trickier to summarize. That’s why I couldn’t wait to dig into Barr’s newest guide. The Stuff Games Are Made Of sees the game designer flexing his equally highly effective writing muscular tissues, taking us behind the scenes of his personal video games to supply insights into how and why individuals make video games.

Game Changers: The Video Game Revolution

Dance Dance Revolution and Dark Souls appear in the art book Game Changers.

Photograph: Phaidon Press

Game Changers is the video game espresso desk guide for folk who acquired into gaming as adults and need a sensible, meaty, mature introductory course to gaming historical past. Launched by artwork guide writer Phaidon, with a ahead from the writer, journalist, and podcaster Simon Parkin, the guide covers 300 of essentially the most influential video video games, offering considerate context alongside stunning images, artwork, and composition.

The guide includes a quantity of instruments to ease newcomers into the style’s jargon and coterie of characters, together with a glossary of key phrases, a bundle of bios, and a plethora of shiny screenshots and images. I’m particularly fond of the choice of video games, which is neither too obscure nor too acquainted. For a guide like this, of course, Madden and Grand Theft Auto ought to make the lower. And it’s no shock to see artsy classics like Journey.

However am I giddy to seek out Spelunky and P.T.? Completely. In reality, the guide managed to shock me, a hardened video game journalist. I had by no means heard of OXO, a chunk of software program launched within the U.Ok. in 1952 that bends the definition of a video game and stretches its historical past years sooner than its generally understood starting of Tennis for Two in 1958. Now I’m enjoying it on an emulator!

That is the proper newbie’s information for individuals who realize it’s by no means too late to start out a brand new passion.

Like a Hurricane: An Unofficial Oral History of Street Fighter II

A photo of interviews in Polygon’s oral history of Street Fighter 2.

Photograph: Polygon

Sure, that is dishonest, however we genuinely consider our personal guide, Like a Hurricane, is one of the best unique works revealed this 12 months. Polygon’s personal Matt Leone spent years accumulating the oral histories of the Road Fighter video games, most crucially Road Fighter II – a member of The Strong National Museum of Play’s Video Game Hall of Fame. Our guide options insights from over 60 individuals concerned within the creation of the Road Fighter collection, together with stunning artwork. And the design – made via our collaboration with Learn-Solely Reminiscence — is hanging.

Plus, now we have a particular unique provide at Polygon’s merch retailer! We collaborated with Road Fighter musicians Yoko Shimomura and Harumi Fujita to compose unique songs. The tracks have been printed on a custom two-sided vinyl record!

The CRPG Book

The cover of The CRPG Books is filled with fantastical creatures and heroes

Photograph: Bitmap Books

OK, this isn’t technically new — The CRPG Book was revealed in 2019 — however 2023 is that this guide’s time to shine.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is the shock mega-hit of 2023, profitable over numerous followers who’d by no means heard the acronym CRPG, aka laptop role-playing game. If, like me, adventuring within the Sword Coast has awoken an curiosity within the traditional style, then I can assume of no higher guide than the aptly titled The CRPG E book from Bitmap.

For newcomers, the guide offers a shame-free introduction to iconic titles and franchises like Fallout, Ultima, The Bard’s Story, and Nethack. As for hardcore followers, the tome nonetheless presents loads of surprises and discoveries. Do you know about Cobra Mission: Panic in Cobra Metropolis, the primary erotic Japanese RPG to be localized into English? In fights, it’s important to quickly drag your weapon into the enemy’s physique elements.

That is the type of guide you retain in your desk for a 12 months, often opening to a random web page and studying about — let’s give this a attempt — Superhero League of Hoboken and Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse. With a style this storied and various, there’s at all times one thing new to find. Studying about video games: It’s the search that by no means ends!

The Videogame Industry Does Not Exist: Why We Should Think Beyond Commercial Game Production

The cover of The Video Game Industry Does Not Exist is a low-res, digital depiction of a mountainside.

Picture: MIT Press

Does it irritate you when a chat present host or information anchor insipidly publicizes that video video games earn more money than the movie trade — as if that’s the metric the medium wanted to justify its inventive deserves? If sure, Brendan Keogh’s book will soothe you.

Keogh questions the tendency amongst each game designers and gamers to substitute all of video game tradition for “the video game industry.” With insights from over 400 builders from the world over, he inspects the affect of capital on video game growth and conceptualizes options as firstly a cultural and social exercise, not an financial one.

Of all of the books, Keogh’s is essentially the most historically educational. It’s additionally the guide that I discovered, within the best methods, desperate to problem my assumptions about what it means to like and have fun video video games within the period of AAA mega-budgets. As Keogh has mentioned, that is an intervention.

Right here’s a great interview with Keogh to offer you a style of what this wonderful guide has to supply.

Video Game of the Year

A person clings onto falling Tetris tetrominoes in Jordan Minor’s book Video Game of the Year.

Photograph: Harry N. Abrams

One of the advantages of appreciating a comparably younger type of leisure is the velocity of progress. Yearly since Pong debuted in 1972 has had at the very least one new launch that made a everlasting impression on the medium. Textual content offers strategy to pixels and polygons. Story evolves from advertising copy on the again of an NES field to procedurally generated open-world adventures. Two-player co-op crops a seed that grows into MMOs.

Jordan Minor’s Video Game of the Year displays on 45 years of video game historical past by choosing one game per 12 months and offering concise insights into its cultural significance. Minor additionally invited a small battalion of game critics and journalists to supply some extra perception, so the reader will get the bonus of listening to from of us like Jason Schreier, Rebekah Valentine, and Blessing Adeoye Jr. (and possibly a shock Polygon author look, too!).

With an abundance of charming artwork, Video Game of the Yr stands someplace between historical past and occasional desk guide, making it a straightforward possibility this vacation for anyone in your life who loves video games.

The Beauty of Games

The cover for Frank Lantz’s The Beauty of Games is orange dots over a pastoral painting.

Picture: MIT Press

Full disclosure: I labored with writer Frank Lantz at NYU Game Heart, the video game program he based and oversaw for over a decade. He’s additionally helped design two of my favourite video games of all time: Drop7 and Common Paperclips. And his lectures within the mid-’00s performed an element in inspiring me to dedicate my life, largely, to this medium. Evidently, I’m bringing some bias.

That mentioned, what I recognize most about Lantz is how he communicates with such readability and keenness that even after I disagree with him (which I do with some frequency!) I nonetheless relish the chance to see the world via his eyes. Typically he alters my thoughts. Different instances, I come away extra resolute than ever that I’m proper. However I at all times step away extra obsessed with this bizarre collision of media we name an artwork type.

The Beauty of Games is, certain sufficient, in regards to the magnificence of video games. Lantz invitations the reader to consider what video games (and different mediums) do to us, whether or not it’s profound, pointless, or a bit of each. Neglect whether or not or not video games are artwork. What do they make you’re feeling?

The aforementioned journalist Simon Parkin just lately invited Lantz onto his podcast, My Perfect Console, the place the 2 mentioned Lantz’s profession, from the early days of sponcon video video games to academia to what’s subsequent.

The Art of the Box

Art from retro action video games in Art of the Box by Bitmap Books.

Photograph: Bitmap Books

Why make an artwork guide in regards to the artwork that offered video video games, relatively than the video video games themselves? Nicely, The Art of the Box suggests the art work that caught the eyes of avid gamers within the ’70s via the ’90s served a larger goal than advertising.

In these early days of gaming, gamers wanted their creativeness to fill within the gaps of textual content adventures and impressionistic pixel graphics. Nice field artwork gave these imaginations a launching pad.

The guide is split by artist, that includes biographies and portfolios for 26 cowl artists. Although you may not be aware of names like Ken Macklin and Susumu Matsushita, you’ll know the titles of video games coated, from Castlevania to Diablo.

NES Endings Compendium Vol. 1: 1985-89

The cover for NES Endings Compendium features art inspired by classic retro games.

Picture: Restricted Run Video games

Right here’s a guide that gives precisely what it guarantees: descriptions of roughly 200 NES game endings.

It might be straightforward for a guide that describes the ending of video video games that hardly had tales to develop into repetitive and tedious, however writer Rey Esteban has an infectious love each for these traditional video games and their period of game magazines.

Esteban takes a free-flowing strategy to the entries relatively than becoming every right into a template. Some are simple descriptions, others learn like comics, one riffs on the freeze-frame post-credits of Nineteen Eighties teen comedies. The pages have been loaded with cheeky writing, like describing the story of a game referred to as Trojan as “pretty spartan.”

Esteban pairs every entry with gobs of screenshots. For instance, the Bionic Commando entry spans two pages, with eight screenshots of 8-bit Hitler’s head exploding: 4 screenshots from the game and 4 pop-art variants to “make Andy Warhol proud.” You’ll discover the passwords that unlock secret endings, sidebars contrasting the variations between the American and Japanese variations of video games, and even some unique pixel artwork.

However the cause to learn this guide is acknowledged on the primary web page. Seeing the ending of a single NES game is tough and takes a ton of time. Nonetheless, flipping via the pages of this guide in your sofa — straightforward peasy.

Doom Guy: Life in First Person

A screenshot of Doom (1993) in which the player faces four floating Cacodemons in an underground level

Picture: id Software program/Bethesda Softworks

David Kushner’s Masters of Doom is arguably the preferred work of nonfiction about video game growth. The story follows the creators of Doom from their early days as heavy-metal-loving tinkerers to their temporary reign as kings of standard tradition with the rise of the fashionable first-person shooter.

Doom Guy presents the one factor Kushner’s guide couldn’t: a direct line into John Romero’s mind meat. Written by the gaming luminary and Doom co-creator, Doom Man is a uncommon video game biography. Video games historical past has regrettably few examples of an completed game creator reflecting on their life, however between this guide and Reggie Fils-Aimé’s Disrupting the Game, that development could also be shifting.

If you’d like the best gaming memoir (not launched in 2023), my choose is Ask Iwata, a pocket-sized assortment of knowledge from the late Satoru Iwata, former Nintendo CEO.

From Ants to Zombies: Six Decades of Video Game Horror

An image of Slaughterhouse spans two pages in the book From Ants to Zombies: Six Decades of Video Game Horror.

Photograph: Bitmap Books

The newest tome from Bitmap Books is sort of a phone guide’s value of horror video games, from 13 Ghosts to Zombie Raid. I wish to assume of myself as properly learn within the horror game style, however I repeatedly realized about decades-old video games like Forbidden Forest and Shark Jaws, the latter an unlicensed Jaws arcade game that had “JAWS” in big print with an itty-bitty “SHARK” previous it.

For a guide on horror video games that’s full of images and screenshots, From Ants to Zombies is unexpectedly tasteful. You gained’t discover a bunch of hardcore gore. As an alternative, its many contributors have stuffed the guide with theories on what makes a game terrifying and juicy bits of underdocumented historical past about video games that go bump within the evening.

I don’t know what instruments Bitmap makes use of to create its stunning, high-resolution pictures of NES pixel artwork that might have regarded best on a postage stamp. However holy moly, its design staff has an amazing reward for making an Atari game’s title display screen or a pixelated Simon Belmont seem like advantageous artwork.

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