Calling This Gaming Life a book about video games is a misnomer. Video games — or the love of gaming, more accurately — is at the core, but it’s also part travelogue, part commentary on community, and part personal reflection As much as the book bounces around from topic to topic, it stays glued together and finishes as a delightful and enlightening read.
Jim Rossignol opens the book with a description of his experience with the video game Quake, his intense devotion to it as a competitive hobby, and his subsequent loss of an office job because of the game. While the section works as a biographical primer into Rossignol’s experience with games, it also sets up one of the book’s reoccurring questions: are gamers wasting their time with video games?
Rossignol’s answer is a book-long “no.”
The majority of This Gaming Life revolves around Rossignol’s visits to three very different cities and the similarly very-different game experiences he’s had in each: London, where Rossignol spent a substantial amount of time competing at near-professional levels with first-person shooter games; in Seoul, South Korea, where legions of adults treat professional gamers like royalty; and in Reykjavik, Iceland, where the multiplayer game EVE Online is redefining how people look at society and adaptability in video games.
The section on Seoul may be the most interesting in the book, as South Koreans view video games in a near alien way, at least from a Western perspective. Not only is game playing so popular that there are dozens of prime-time game shows dedicated to it, but countless 20-somethings spend their time playing and interacting on bare-bones online games that could be considered boring to their Western counterparts. It’s not uncommon for crowds of young adults to go to coffee bars in their free time and wile away the evening playing online games, and it’s seen as normal and healthy.
This Gaming Life isn’t necessarily aimed solely at gamers; in fact, some of the preliminary chapters may be helpful to people that know nothing of video games. Rossignol points out some of the facts about video games that have eluded the mainstream media for years, and writes at length about the social and community aspects that are hard to find outside of gaming. Some of this discussion was the most enlightening for me; though I’ve been a gamer since I was a teen, the commentary on the social ‘sandbox’ aspects of video games (that is, how many games give players open-ended freedom as they play) was great.
The book is accessible to non-gamers, for the most part, but people that play video games — even casually — will get the most mileage out of it. Rossignol does a great job explaining some concepts for the uninitiated, but some of the stuff covered is easier to grasp if you’ve experienced it first-hand. While this isn’t a problem at first, Rossignol branches off into several directions simultaneously; where he was going with the book was hard to grasp at some points, and I could see it being even more confusing for people that weren’t familiar with the gaming world.
That said, Travels in Three Cities works well as both an introduction to video game culture, and also as a more complex exploration of a hobby that’s still developing and changing weekly.
The copy reviewed was an unedited advance copy, provided by the publisher.
This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities
by Jim Rossignol
Published in 2008 by Digital Culture Books