Friday, 26 October 2018

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 26th October 2018: "Awesome Minds: Video Game Creators" by Alejandro Arbona and Chelsea O'Mara Holeman (Duopress Publishing)

Our Second book of the week this week is a fascinating slice of videogame history, that's the perfect way for old-skool gamers like me to clue their kids up on some awesome innovators...
Before I started book blogging I used to play and write regularly about videogames. I wouldn't even like to try and estimate just how many games I've played since I first spied my first ever videogame - of all places in the cafe at Pickett's Lock Sports Centre as a wee sprog living in London.

Without straying too far into a bit of neu-videogames-journalism, the path to my games addiction was exacerbated by the arrival of those nefarious blocky little invaders from space some time later, and then with the arrival of my first home sports game, my first proper console (the mighty Acetronic MPU 1000), then later the Atari 2600, I really was completely hooked.

Weirdly, for a very long time I've tried to shield C from getting too engrossed in games but inevitably, in a house filled with games and consoles, it's not an easy trick for a gamer to pull off to completely shut their kid away from games.

So it's been brilliant leafing through "Awesome Minds: Video Game Creators" by Alejandro Arbona and Chelsea O'Mara Holeman, a real trip down memory lane but also a fabulous anecdote-filled induction for 'noobs' to gaming, who might wonder just how modern games like Minecraft and Fortnite actually have their roots in amazing creations from decades ago.

From Ada Lovelace, the first programmer - to Pong. A huge leap in technology and processes that gathers momentum year on year with each and every new technological leap. 
Starting with the very first game developed to run on an old oscilloscope, mimicking the actual sport of Tennis, things progressed fairly slowly at first. But soon enough technology began to catch up with some of the pioneering video game designers' visions of what they were trying to achieve. Many famous individuals in at the start like Nolan Bushnell, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Eugene Jarvis and many others made their fortunes either as part of burgeoning companies setting up across the globe to tap into the new emerging videogame world, or as part of collectives tasked with designing the "next big thing" be it a gaming console or a pioneering game.

It was slightly embarrassing going through this book and realising just how much of this kit I actually owned, or still own!
Alejandro and Chelsea do a great job of combing together a vast array of facts and information into a digestible and particularly kid-friendly book. Opting for illustrations rather than screenshots throughout seemed a bit of an odd choice, but most illustrations are instantly recognisable - so it makes for a fairly novel approach compared to other historical videogame books we've seen, and again lends itself well to kids of all ages.

The book powers through some of the golden years of videogaming, and talks up some of our favourite consoles and games of the past 40 years (thinking back, that's about how long I've been playing games, sheesh!)

It also does a very good job of covering Anita Sarkeesian's continuing fight to ensure that women in videogaming get recognition and credit for their work (thankfully without mentioning GamerGate and giving those idiots more air time). Again really great for a girl to see that some of the most innovative and imaginative people, and in fact the very first computer programmer, were women.

The most fascinating bit for C was reading about how videogame designers and programmers did a lot of 'working around' the particular limitations of technology in order to hack together brilliant gaming experiences (we loved reading about Shigeru Myamoto's challenges when trying to make a lovable videogame icon such as mario, with a limited palette of colours and just a few grid blocks to play with).

That's something that always struck a chord with me too, that these men and women were absolutely determined to hang on to their unique visions and do their best to deliver them to adoring masses of gamers, who will (like me) still have very fond memories of those games.

It's also vital for kids to realise that this isn't all new and shiny, and they're not the first generation of kids to be wowed by games. I do my best at home now during C's screen time allowance every week to mix in some classic retro gaming amongst all the newer shinier stuff, but kids being kids always love pretty shiny things far more.

An absolutely brilliant book though, and perfect for folk who want to introduce their own kids to the thoroughly fascinating subject of videogame history.

C's favourite game designers (as the book asked so politely at the start): Anyone involved in the development of Skate 3 or Forza Horizon 3 (Black Box, Playground Games, Turn 10 take a bow!)

Daddy's favourite game designers: Matthew (Manic Miner) Smith, Eugene (Defender) Jarvis, Shigeru (Mario, Zelda and so many others) Myamoto, Paul (Mercenary) Woakes, Rockstar Games and SO many others.

"Awesome Minds: Video Game Creators" by Alejandro Arbona and Chelsea O'Mara is out now, published by Duopress Publishing (kindly supplied for review).