Yesterday evening I started reading Extra Lives by Tom Bissell. I'm one chapter in and too angry at the author to bother finishing the book.
First, for the sake of background, this is a book about video games. The front of the volume says it's a treatise on 'why video games matter.' Now, this is a funny thing to claim your book focuses on or proves, because value can take a lot of different forms. Tell any businessperson video games matter and they'll probably cite some financial figures which amount to, basically, “of course they fucking matter, kid, you don't need to tell me that.” The only people that would argue with you are, probably, parents who don't actually believe they don't matter but are too sick of their kids playing Halo when they're supposed to be doing their homework to care about honesty.
No, I think the author is trying to address the social stigma associated with gaming. Anyway, that was my impression, looking at the cover of the book – and that topic seems much more relevant. You may have needed to convince an audience that video games mattered thirty years ago, maybe forty, but at this point the world is very bought into them.
During the first chapter, the author reviews the visual and narrative aspects of Fallout 3. Here, it seems his message is actually that video games matter from an artistic standpoint. That's a pretty tired topic, especially if you've ever talked about art with a rapper or a graffiti artist – or anyone whose art form of choice has trouble finding reception with a conventional art crowd. The conversation is always basically the same. Still, curious, I kept reading.
That became more and more difficult with each page. Bissell writes like an English teacher, not a writer; his tone is affected with a sort of intellectual insecurity which lends itself to using a lot of arcane words without necessity. I get the feeling that he loves hearing himself talk, but isn't sure anyone else does. It makes reading an endeavor, something you have to undertake and at times argue yourself into sticking with, rather than an enjoyable experience. In gaming terms, he's Dirge of Cerberus.
He nearly lost me after the first chapter. No opening argument rang out anywhere within it. It wasn't a strong piece to start the book with. Despite the infections Bissell's writing style suffers, it does at times contain very pleasingly wrought language, but that's it's only redeeming characteristic.
Chapter two starts with a rundown of the opening sequence of the original Resident Evil game. If Bissell were in the room and talking me through this, I can't imagine myself not interrupting with “I know, dude, I'm way familiar with Resident Evil. Can we get into the meat of your argument now?” But, to be fair, Bissell isn't writing to gamers. In this section he says some very racist things about Japan, telling the audience in a roundabout way that he finds Japanese people to possess a charming incompetence with Western ideas. Barf. But I kept reading. This is the sentence that really got me:
“You harbor affection for the products of Japan, from its cuisine to its girls to its video games – the medium Japanese game designers have made their own.”
Just think about it for a moment. Anything striking you as odd? Maybe not – so try reading this version.
“You harbor affection for the products of Japan, from its cuisine to its boys to its video games – the medium Japanese game designers have made their own.”
Whoah now, that sounds weird, right? Boys aren't a product! At least call them 'men,' since 'boys' is usually reserved for the juveniles of the gender and is sort of demeaning in that way. And seriously, you're listing them right next to food and video games? They're people. Why do you always compare them, first and foremost, to food?
Fuck you, Tom Bissell. You're a bigot. You think the Japanese are weird and incompetent for letting their culture spill into that of those they try to emulate? You're a thousand times worse for letting your viewpoint blind you to the viewpoints of others. And you shouldn't have this problem. You've spent plenty of time living abroad. Assimilating other sets of opinions, even ones far differing from your own, should be a non-issue for you.
Anyone that values their mind should also value its elasticity, should place paramount importance on their ability to think in new ways. Dexterity in many modes of thinking is true mental capability, no one can call themselves intellectually capable without it. Further, people that cannot imagine what some experience would feel like for someone besides themselves are considered mentally disabled.
God, I'm so disgusted.
I used to take great pains to ignore prejudice and bigotry. My (very strong) conviction was that it was not my job to address anyone else's idiocy. But I'm so sick of having it thrown in my face.