Extra Lives is in many ways the book about video games I have been waiting for. Forget Bogost’s procedurality or Gee’s 36 theses about why they matter. What Bissel does is articulate — exactly — a fact about video games that I have always found to be a great contradiction for me. I know the writing is almost always terrible; I know the games’ maturity level are lucky to reach even the sophomoric; I know video games have decades, maybe centuries to go before they mature as an art form. Yet right now, as they are, I love them. I am drawn to them compulsively. I crave them. But with all the ways in which they fail as art, why?
Tom Bissel’s book provides one answer, an answer I find extremely compelling. There is absolutely no underestimating the immersive value of games, their ability to allow players to embody their experience in an alternate world. That single fact trumps, at least for Bissel and me, almost every other aesthetic principle that has existed heretofore. In other words, I would prefer to be in a game world than almost anywhere else.
(Review to be continued later.)