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Book Review: This Gaming Life by Jim Rossignol

* Genre: Nonfiction, Video Games
* ISBN: 0472116355
* ISBN-13: 9780472116355
* Format: Hardcover, 224pp
* Publisher: digitalculturebooks
* Pub. Date: May 2008
* Author Blog

The thesis of Jim Rossignol’s This Gaming Life boils down to one sentence, “games are an antidote to boredom, and excellent cure for a seriously debilitating malaise.” (p.29) Rossignol then goes to undermine this very thesis by pointing out all the ways that games can change our lives for the better.

The book is broken into three major sections, cordoned off by the names of three major cities in the gaming world, “London”, :”Seoul”, “Reykjavik”, the final and fourth being a conclusion titled simply “Home”. Rossignol uses each section to explore some aspect of gaming culture; things that are unique to or began in these areas, but that are spreading elsewhere in small trickles.

In the section titled “London”, Rossignol explores how games self-propagate, using a personal example as the primary story. Rossignol lost a job as a journalist on a financial newspaper, because he was obsessed with the video game Quake. But through some creativity and a stroke of luck, he was able to turn this obsession into a job writing for Wired, the BBC, and PC Gamer among other publications. He also explores how gamers have become game designers, turning their passion into a career.

The second section, “Seoul”, looks at the unique gaming culture of South Korea, where gamers gather together, much like we do at Starbucks in the Western world, but instead of talking, they play video games. These gaming “baangs” as they are called, are communities, entire social groups centered on games. But not in a geeky way. Apparently the entire country sees gaming as a professional sport, and the games are televised and sponsors pay for gamers to wear their logos, much like in NASCAR. Starcraft has become the number one most watched sport in S. Korea, strange as it may seem. This is an interesting and unique type of gaming, and this section is worthwhile to read just for its unusual nature.

The final key section, “Reykjavik” moves from the social communities that require physical proximity, to the virtual communities produced by video games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft. Rossignol explores how games played over the Internet in real time are creating entire communities, allowing people to add to them through MODS or simple creativity, are creating communities outside of the game itself.

All if this ends up being very fascinating, and as a book about gaming culture, This Gaming Life is excellent. But as far as supporting his original thesis, that games are good simply because they alleviate boredom, the book falls apart. All of the good things that Rossignol points out are usually products of the game, but are results outside of the game itself, even when most of the action takes place inside the game. Meaning, that if Rossignol wants to make the case that video games are good because they alleviate boredom, he cannot point to the good things that games are doing outside of the game.

Besides, is the alleviation of boredom such a noble goal? Rossignol assumes that his readers will think that it is. But in truth, boredom is symptomatic of deeper issues, such as a lack of interest, or an interest in too many things, information overload, too much leisure time, and our post modern culture’s lack of purpose. This Gaming Life shows how many people are finding purpose in games, not to alleviate boredom per se, although it does that to a point, but rather that it fulfills the deep need people have for purpose.

Essentially, Rossignol is on the right track, he just didn’t dig deeply enough into the hu8man psyche. He saw alleviation of a symptom as games highest and best use. But what if games give people purpose, as it seems to have done in Rossignol’s own life.

Rossignol can be a witty writer, and This Gaming Life is entertaining to read. It is a good entry book for those trying to understand the culture of gaming and useful for its analysis of some the anecdotal evidence for the effect of gaming in the lives of people. The book falls short in actually making an argument for its thesis, and so as an apologetic for gaming as an art form, it needs more development. Rossignol is too much of a gamer to look at it objectively. He sometimes makes some valuable insights, especially when he discusses the future of social gaming like EVE Online and World of Warcraft, but he is too much in love with the medium to really assess it clearly.

This Gaming Life is a worthwhile read for those who want a good overview of some gaming history, gaming culture, and some nebulous predictions about the future of gaming. I found it enjoyable and interesting, but not convincing.

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