Joystick Nation

By Joystick Nation (Paperback)

Rating: 3 stars

I found this going cheap in the perpetual book sale in my University Library. It’s a pop-history of video games that was published in 1997 which, given the rate of development of computers, makes it practically medieval. Even so, it was an interesting read, covering the development of games from the very early mainframe games through the arcades of the ’80s right up to the newest consoles of the time (the N64 and Sega Saturn).

The book was written by an American and so focusses very much on North America, missing some of the developments that happened on this side of the Atlantic, particularly, I feel, in the ’80s when the 8-bit computers such as the BBC, C64 and Spectrum were so popular here. It covers several sociological trends that were probably transnational and still makes for interesting reading, even if it is heavily biased towards the US.

What I found slightly odd about the book is that the author did seem to mostly consider gaming to be an occupation for children, but then the 20- and 30-somethings who play games now were kids when the book was written and the games industry itself wasn’t as mature as it is now, when it caters to all ends of the market (the best example of a girl-oriented game that the author could come up with was Ms Pacman!).

Also, the book came out just when games on CD-ROM were starting to become popular for PCs, but the PC gaming market still hadn’t really taken off, so focussed a lot on consoles, although the chapter on the “military-entertainment complex” was interesting (basically suggesting that most of the development into game graphics and complexity came from the military).

I found the tone of the book quite odd. It had footnotes and references to academic papers all over the place, but the narrative tone was distinctly personal and popular, even throwing in the odd swearword, perhaps to be ‘edgy’. It mostly worked but sometimes the juxtaposition was somewhat jarring.

Overall, this was an interesting, if somewhat dated, history, from a trans-Atlantic point of view. I’d be interested in reading a more up-to-date edition, and one written from a British perspective.

Book details

ISBN: 9780349107233
Year of publication: 1997

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