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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.
"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 with me as long as this book about games.” —Farhad Manjoo, Slate
“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
“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
“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'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 game.s . . . 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 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