Books about video games can be enchanting and inspiring, and as easy to dive into as the immersive medium that inspired them. Whether you’re looking to enjoy your hobby from fresh new angles or just need something to read as you lounge in the sand in the final ocean-friendly days of summer, I’ve put together a little list of great video game books that span many interests and topics.
The console nerd’s almanac
The Game Console 2.0: A Photographic History from Atari to Xbox by Evan Amos is a chunky photo-forward archive of over 100 consoles sliced into shiny plastic layers. Amos began producing and publicly disseminating high-quality images of consoles in 2010 after being “annoyed by low-quality pictures on Wikipedia,” as he wrote in a 2013 blog.
The Game Console 2.0 is a sweet presentation of the fruits of his labor—consoles big and small burst into layers like bisected models of Earth. The illuminating context, and extreme care with which Amos presents his archive will entice anyone interested in looking at consoles from the inside out.
The book that shows how the sausage is made
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Kotaku alum Jason Schreier is an intense behind-the-scenes look at video game development hell.
Schreier goes into the ins and outs of how all game development, from indies like Stardew Valley to huge “triple-A” productions like Destiny, push makers to their limits. Through 10 captivating stories, Schreier builds a troubling image of how hard-working developers gamble nerves and wellbeing to ship a game. But it’s sobering—you’ll be reminded of how much we give up for work.
The book that dissects game history
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner is another laser-focused look at what happens behind video games’ coded curtain. This time, we go behind the scenes of the development of one of the most momentous games ever, 1993’s Doom.
Kushner, a journalist and professor, spent years researching the history of id Software and interviewing co-founders John Carmack and John Romero. His resulting narrative harnesses the reverberations of their ultimately shattered relationship, making for an eternally relevant document about youth, friendship, and modern gaming’s ragged history.
The book that susses out the future
The Immersive Enclosure: Virtual Reality in Japan by MIT professor Paul Roquet is an intriguing analysis of virtual reality as a new vessel for a contaminated kind of individualism, the product of people retreating deeper into personal devices instead of the larger, collective world. Released earlier this year—a year when people are increasingly perturbed by Mark Zuckerberg’s dystopian-feeling vision for virtual reality—the book encourages a more global approach to dissecting VR.
Roquet explores VR’s most popular applications in Japan. What does it mean for people to insert themselves fully in a virtual world? What does it mean for an older cis man to transform himself into a teen girl? Roquet chomps through these questions to holistically evaluate this new tech and its future.
The (fictional) dystopia
Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers is the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s rooting into VR’s more militaristic implications. In the novel, published in 2000, memory and imagination act as both prison and possibility—a VR researcher loses herself in the blank white of the virtual room she’s creating while, across the world, a prisoner of war is confined, alone, in another white room.
Plowing the Dark is not as explicitly about games as the other books on this list, but it’ll force you to consider what passion and technology help create in your life, whether it’s escapism, or something else.
The book about gender
Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature by scholar and author Donna Haraway is a collection of essays about nature and the strange creatures therein written between 1978 and 1989. Now it’s 2022, and nature continues to perplex us strange, increasingly tech-addled creatures. We’re stuck to our everyday technology, screens, consoles, and headsets, but in contrast to modern finger-wagging essays, Haraway makes a compelling argument in favor of our current form: boundary-and-science-defying cyborgs.
These essays are one big push against rigid, binary thinking—especially in response to race, gender, and science—and it still lands decades later.
The book that maps imagination
Virtual Cities: An Atlas & Exploration of Video Game Cities is an exciting convergence of fan service and, unexpectedly, city planning, created by urbanist and game designer Konstantinos Dimopoulos and visual artist Maria Kallikaki.
The book, a crowdfunded work of knowledge and love, documents the history of and creates maps for 45 video game cities. It indulgently pays attention to iconic video game places like Raccoon City and Silent Hill with beautiful ink drawings and cartography skills you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
The ideal picture book
But I put it on this list because it’s devastatingly beautiful, with some of the most sumptuous and playful printed concept art images I’ve seen. It’s a true ode to Capcom’s stunning action-adventure Okami, and, more broadly, an immortalization of games’ demonstrated artistry, rendered in coal-black ink.
This is just a small chocolate box of the many fascinating books about video games out there. What are some of your favorite reads? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.