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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,321 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Tom Bissell Narrator: Tom Bissell Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: June 2010 ISBN: 9780307736987
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Tom Bissell is a prizewinning writer who published three widely acclaimed books before the age of thirty-four. He is also an obsessive gamer who has spent untold hours in front of his various video game consoles, playing titles such as Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, BioShock, and Oblivion for, literally, days. If you are reading this flap copy, the same thing can probably be said of you, or of someone you know.
 
Until recently, Bissell was somewhat reluctant to admit to his passion for games. In this, he is not alone. Millions of adults spend hours every week playing video games, and the industry itself now reliably outearns Hollywood. But the wider culture seems to regard video games as, at best, well designed if mindless entertainment.
 
Extra Lives is an impassioned defense of this assailed and misunderstood art form. Bissell argues that we are in a golden age of gaming—but he also believes games could be even better. He offers a fascinating and often hilarious critique of the ways video games dazzle and, just as often, frustrate. Along the way, we get firsthand portraits of some of the best minds (Jonathan Blow, Clint Hocking, Cliff Bleszinski, Peter Molyneux) at work in video game design today, as well as a shattering and deeply moving final chapter that describes, in searing detail, Bissell’s descent into the world of Grand Theft Auto IV, a game whose themes mirror his own increasingly self-destructive compulsions.
 
Blending memoir, criticism, and first-rate reportage, Extra Lives is like no other book on the subject ever published. Whether you love video games, loathe video games, or are merely curious about why they are becoming the dominant popular art form of our time, Extra Lives is required reading.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Tom Bissell is a Renaissance Man for our out-of-joint time . . . His descriptions of simulated gore and mayhem manage to be clinical, gripping, and hilarious all at once. He transmits to the reader the primitive, visceral excitements that make video games so enticing, even addictive, to their legions of devotees. One can almost understand why an intelligent, cultured man such as Bissell has been driven to dedicate large chunks of his adult life to bouts of gaming. The New Republic
  • "Even if Extra Lives wasn’t the only book to deal with the future of videogames in a serious manner, it would probably still be the best one. Newsweek
  • "What should videogame criticism look like? Bissell’s book offers plenty of tantalizing possibilities. . . A deeply personal work, as entertaining as the video games it profiles . . . It’s also the first book about videogames that non-gamers can actually enjoy. Entertainment Weekly
  • "For anyone who has spent a weekend thrilled by the prospect of beating a game, "Extra Lives" will cast the addiction in a new, cerebral light. Washington Post
  • "An important, relentlessly perceptive book . . . Bissell proves that it’s possible to ruminate on the past, present, and future of video games in a way that is both intellectually rigorous and consistently entertaining. San Francisco Bay Guardian
     
  • Bissell has written the finest account yet of what it feels like to be a video game player at ‘this glorious, frustrating time,’ a rare moment when humanity encounters, as he writes, ‘a form of storytelling that is, in many ways, completely unprecedented.’ New York Times Book Review 
  • Fantastic . . . I wish, someday, to play a game that will stay wit me as long as this book about games. Farhad Manjoo, Slate
  • Extra Lives is the first truly indispensable work of literary nonfiction about society’s most lucrative entertainment medium. Bissell’s commentary is marvelously astute and his enthusiasm for videogames beams through every inch of text. Paste Magazine
  • Tom Bissell is a Renaissance Man for our out-of-joint time . . . His descriptions of simulated gore and mayhem manage to be clinical, gripping, and hilarious all at once. He transmits to the reader the primitive, visceral excitements that make video games so enticing, even addictive, to their legions of devotees. One can almost understand why an intelligent, cultured man such as Bissell has been driven to dedicate large chunks of his adult life to bouts of gaming. The New Republic
  • Even if Extra Lives wasn’t the only book to deal with the future of videogames in a serious manner, it would probably still be the best one. Newsweek
  • What should videogame criticism look like? Bissell’s book offers plenty of tantalizing possibilities. . .  A deeply personal work, as entertaining as the video games it profiles . . . It’s also the first book about videogames that non-gamers can actually enjoy. Entertainment Weekly
  • For anyone who has spent a weekend thrilled by the prospect of beating a game, “Extra Lives” will cast the addiction in a new, cerebral light. Washington Post
  • An important, relentlessly perceptive book . . . Bissell proves that it’s possible to ruminate on the past, present, and future of video games in a way that is both intellectually rigorous and consistently entertaining. San Francisco Bay Guardian
  • A master prose stylist, the erudite Bissell is frequently insightful. Boston Globe
  • A fascinating book . . . Extra Lives is like taking a private tour at a very exclusive museum, filled with lost masterpieces you never knew existed. You may not find yourself becoming a collector, but you won't soon forget the experience. San Francisco Chronicle
  • This journalistic memoir is not only about the meaning of video games; it’s about the heat and hesitation of love. Los Angeles Times
  • Mr. Bissell is so descriptively alert that his accounts of pixelated derring-do may well interest even those who are immune to the charm of video games . . . Extra Lives is the most fun you’ll ever have reading about videogames. Wall Street Journal
  • Tom Bissell's brave book, occupying a niche somewhere between journalism and an extended personal essay, couldn’t come at a better time. BarnesAndNobleReview.com
  • Bissell, a whip-smart writer, is engrossed by the new artistic and narratological possibilities that video gaming opens up to us, and his prose is never dry or academic—rather, it’s sweetly personal, and always engaging, even as it pushes its readers to reconsider gaming’s lowbrow status. Time Out New York
  • A scintillating meditation on the promise and discontents of video games . . . Bissell excels both at intellectual commentary and evocative reportage on the experience of playing games . . . If anyone can bridge the aesthetic chasm between readers and gamers, he can. Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
  • Bissell explores not just his own affection for video games but also the games themselves. What separates good games from bad? Where do video games fit on the sliding scale of art? . . . Not just for gamers, the book should also appeal to readers who have some serious questions about the nature and impact of video games. Booklist
  • Bissell successfully dissects key aspects of the medium with razor sharp sense and artfully crafted analysis. A thought provoking, thorough, and ultimately personal study of the industry and its denizens. Cliff Bleszinski, Design Director, Epic Games
  • The best long-form writing about games I’ve read. No one has written an experiential consideration of games that so carefully and lovingly examines their blossoms and warts. No one has written an astute personal account of the push and pull of games, both in terms of their meaning in our lives and in the many ways they infiltrate our consciousness and drive us bananas. No one has given me more reason to believe I’m not crazy when I say I cherish—and I don’t casually use that word—the experiences video games have given me. Michael Abbott, brainygamer.com
  • The last thing I ever thought I'd do in this life is read a book about video games. And yet Extra Lives is sharp, critical, very funny, and Tom Bissell's description of killing zombies in the first iteration of Resident Evil is simply a tour de force. If you've ever wanted to know what Grand Theft Auto actually is, and why a highly intelligent person would be interested in it, and whether it is in fact "art," you will really like this book. Keith Gessen, author of All the Sad Young Literary Men

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mike Graziosi | 2/14/2014

    " The best treatment of video games I've ever read. Most of the book focuses on how video games can stand on their own as an art form unlike any other. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Emily | 2/10/2014

    " This book is about the delivery of story in interactive media. I appreciated getting recaps and commentaries on key games that I will never have time to play (Bioshock) or any inclination for (FPSen are not for me). "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Peter Landau | 2/9/2014

    " Came for my kids, and to understand their obsession, left with an appreciation of the myriad ways storytelling can adapt and thrive (but no cure for the addictive quality of gaming). "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Chris McClinch | 2/7/2014

    " Good explorations of what makes video games tick and why they consistently disappoint as narrative art, but falls short of fulfilling the promise of the book's subtitle: why video games matter. The real difficulty is that the book is too tied up with the subjective perspective of its author, meaning that it too rarely transcends the first-person account of what it was for Bissell to play the games. As such, it answers why video games matter to Bissell, but not within any larger context--a major problem for one of the few books exploring an industry whose profits dwarf Hollywood. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Torrance | 1/25/2014

    " The author's style is a little overdone and pompous in spots (as though he's overcompensating for writing about such a "gauche topic"), but his approach is good. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mitch Dyer | 1/23/2014

    " I really like Tom Bissell. He's the kind of writer who makes me feel smarter just sitting there. His work also makes me want to write, which makes reading his stuff such a pain. Every few pages of Extra Lives I felt inspired to start my own bit of critical analysis. He digs into territory that, for me, was unexplored and unexplained. This is game criticism at its finest, and it's detailed in a way that makes it easy for anyone to understand what he loves about Mass Effect, Far Cry 2, or Grand Theft Auto IV -- and, yes, explaining why they really do matter. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Anju | 1/20/2014

    " Why video games matter is an interesting take on the video game culture and how it's evolved from Pong to Halo to GTAIV. The candid interviews with the game designers and storytellers make it a compelling read for gamers and non-gamers alike. Highly recommend it! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Uberspock | 1/16/2014

    " Excellent, provocative writing about a medium that serious critics virtually ignore. Bissell's book is essential reading for all serious gamers, and it may prove equally essential reading for gamers' skeptical girlfriends and/or parents. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Janet | 1/5/2014

    " The title is misleading. This was more of a trip down memory lane of all the video games he has played, rather than why they matter. Still, it was entertaining to get his views on the game, and he certainly gave me information on some games I hadn't played that I then wanted to try. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Keith | 12/29/2013

    " I am not a gamer, but thought that understanding why video games matter was a worthy subject. The only problem I have with this book is that in the end, I still don't know why video games matter. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tami | 12/29/2013

    " My gaming experience begins with Apple IIe text-based games and Donkey Kong and ends with Super Mario Bros. for Wii, so I know nothing about today's video games. After reading this book, I feel like I've begun to understand what it must feel like to be a gamer. Really brings it to life. Recommended. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Penny Ramirez | 12/27/2013

    " One man's story of video games that influenced his life. Interesting, but not compelling. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Doug | 12/23/2013

    " Fun read if you play video games. Does a decent job of describing which games handle story, dialog, game design well and what the whole industry can do better as a whole. Does absolutely NOTHING to address its sub-title, "Why Video Games Matter." "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jonbro | 8/12/2013

    " some of the best videogame writing I have ever seen, loses focus and becomes a bit indulgent towards the end. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Christian Pappas | 6/4/2013

    " Great if you love video games. Blah if you have no interest. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Elias Davis | 11/28/2012

    " I liked this book. Bissell is a good writer. He knows the subject and describes it well and in great detail - but as a non-video gamer I think I could have learned as much and enjoyed the book more if he'd trimmed some of that detail. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Seth | 11/16/2012

    " Bissell tells a nice story that intermixes a personal narrative with sharp reporting and analysis on electronic game-playing. I would have given it four stars if not for the end when Bissell got a little self-indulgent and lost focus. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lynn Weber | 10/13/2012

    " Interesting book about how video games work and what they give us. It's written at a pretty deep level, which is both rewarding and also leaves you wanting more. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Justin | 7/14/2012

    " Interesting in segments, but the best part (the author's observations on Mass Effect) get eclipsed by a concluding chapter that consists of a travelogue of Liberty City side by side with a confessional of the author's drug habits. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ed | 6/30/2012

    " OK book. Interesting about the past, present, and future of video games as story. Liked investigations in reasons for addictive quality of video games. Although probably inseparable from his game playing, TMI about his personal drug addictions. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Lindsay | 5/22/2012

    " I'm still not sure why video games matter... but this book did make me want to play more of them. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Andrew Wooldridge | 9/8/2011

    " So far it's pretty good. I like the vivid descriptions of the games he's played, and hope that perhaps non-gamers might read and understand gamers a bit more. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Hayley | 5/5/2011

    " This is such a funny and educated look at several significant video games that have come out over the last few years. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Thomas | 3/31/2011

    " This is a thoughtful, personal account that tries to make sense of why intelligent people are drawn to video games. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Natasha | 3/7/2011

    " I liked the chapter about Mass Effect, but the rest of the book was more about how the author felt about video games more than their effect on life in general. They were a tad boring. I think the author was taking video games way too seriously. Just play them and enjoy them. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ed | 3/3/2011

    " OK book. Interesting about the past, present, and future of video games as story. Liked investigations in reasons for addictive quality of video games. Although probably inseparable from his game playing, TMI about his personal drug addictions. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Daniel | 2/27/2011

    " Very entertaining read! Made me want to play a few games I never tried. However, I still don't really know why video games matter... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Torrance | 2/3/2011

    " The author's style is a little overdone and pompous in spots (as though he's overcompensating for writing about such a "gauche topic"), but his approach is good. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Eric | 1/25/2011

    " This book is about the author's experiences with video games, and also covers the history of development. There's not as much social commentary as I was hoping. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Andrew | 1/20/2011

    " So far it's pretty good. I like the vivid descriptions of the games he's played, and hope that perhaps non-gamers might read and understand gamers a bit more. "

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About the Author

Tom Bissell is the author of Chasing the Sea and God Lives in St. Petersburg, and is a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and The Virginia Quarterly Review. In 2006 he was awarded the Rome Fellowship by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and his work has been selected several times by the Best American Short Stories, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Science Writing series.