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The Book of Games Volume 1

Foreword by Ryan Garside -

Books are a great Christmas present. They're relatively inexpensive, traditional and - most important of all - the easiest gift to wrap. It surprises me that despite this there are very few books about games out there. If, like so many still are, you're part of the gaming uninitiated, our culture of videogames can seem alien and bizarre. Books - that aim to explain what gaming is really about - are commendable in themselves. Making games accessible to as many people as possible can only be seen as a positive thing. Hopefully this will herald more books, and give gaming the paper coverage it deserves!


The Book of Games Volume 1

A quick survey of Amazon reveals, with some exceptions, that there are three kinds of video game literature: the history, the game design guide/philosophy and the gameplay guide. What they all share is a need for some significant level of prior knowledge or interest in video games, and there's very little out there for those wanting information and education on the industry.

The Book of Games, the first volume in what will become a series, is an attempt to fill that niche. Aimed squarely at parents and casual gamers it stretches over 400+ pages and provides a guide to the “most important” games of the current era, whilst also providing informative and accessible commentary on the future of and key issues surrounding the industry. Think of this as the ideal gift for your girlfriend/parents/siblings who know nothing of your gaming obsession and are starting to find you a bit bizarre.

Although there are a number of feature articles within the book, the main bulk of it is made up of information on 150 of what the editors deem to be the “most important” games of recent times. Now any such collection is always open to criticism, that much is acknowledged in the preface, but it's difficult to see any real rational for the inclusion of many games. The editors claim to have looked for the highest quality games that are representative of their genre and, though there are plenty of excellent games in the book, there are also a fair number of mediocre titles. Games like Mark Ecko's Getting Up and Batman Begins, seem entirely out of place among the illustrious company of Half-Life 2 or Oblivion.


More curious, however, is the noticeable leaning toward games published by EA. The Sims 2, for example, is featured three times in the Simulation category; with the original game included alongside the 'Open for Business' and 'University' expansion packs. One needn't argue about the originals inclusion, but it seems frivolous to include the expansion packs as well. The 'Sports' category too is, somewhat understandably, dominated by EA. Competing titles – especially one high profile football game (Pro Ev... oh come on, do I really have to say?) – are conspicuous by their absence.

The game selection is separated into eight general game types, with well written introduction articles explaining the features, appeal and origins of each genre. Indeed, the main strength of the book as a whole is the way it's written with all audiences in mind. Technical jargon is kept to a minimum and there's an extensive illustrated glossary for those not fluent in the Bit-Tech mother tongue.

Gaming books are good presents

The games themselves command two pages each, with one reserved for screenshots and the other for general info on the game. In the interests of brevity, information is more general in nature with basic summaries of each game's premise, gameplay features and even moral leanings outlined for readers. This feature again illustrates how The Book of Games is ideally suited to the uninitiated, particularly parents, who are interested or concerned about gaming and wish to know more.

One can't help wondering, though, whether a rather more detailed approach would have proved more beneficial. The book boasts 150 games which, although a mere fraction of the games released in a single year, is still a very large number. Since rather too many of the games could be considered unremarkable there's a good argument for reducing that number to less than 100, perhaps as little as 50, and providing a lot more detail about each individual title, how it works and what gamers and parents alike should look out for.

Though the compendium of games may be a little disappointing, the book also includes a number of feature articles that should prove very informative to casual and non-gamers. The opening feature, 'The Future of Video Games', covers next-generation hardware, handheld gaming and various emerging gaming trends such as ARGs (alternate reality game), educational games and how the likes of Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo Wii are being used to help keep people fit. Following on from that is an introduction to the iconic characters of gaming and later in the book video game movies, MMOs, video game hardware and the effects of game violence are all covered. Much like previous features, these are all well written and use the right kind of language for those whose previous knowledge is limited.

Good though these features are, however, they form quite a small part of the book and the first volume of The Book of Games feels like it has rather too much padding. The idea is, however, a good one and if you're short of a present for a concerned parent this Christmas then The Book of Games may well fit the bill. Otherwise, it qualifies as a commendable but ultimately flawed attempt to tackle the difficult task of educating and informing the masses about an incredibly diverse industry.

The book is available from Amazon and is priced £13.85.

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