So when I spied a copy in my local bookstore, I read up on him in the jacket cover. Still, I'd never heard of any of his books, and I don't read any of the publications for which he's known. But before I put it down, I took a look at some of the praise it's received on the back cover; the words "Resident Evil" caught my eye:
Strong words, indeed. So I flipped to the chapter and read. And suddenly, I wasn't in a bookstore anymore. I was in a mansion in a "forest zone situated in the northwest of Raccoon City," defending myself frantically from zombies. That was it. I was hooked. I bought it and devoured it. It's excellent.
Tom Bissel's description of killing zombies in the first iteration of Resident Evil is simply a tour de force. -Keith Gessen
First off, Bissell is simply an excellent writer. He writes with a level of wit that lesser writers can rarely muster, let alone maintain for 200 pages. And while he's clearly passionate, he never falls into fanboyism; he may love games like Far Cry, but he's just as acutely aware of their achievements as he is their faults. But his description of the first ten minutes of Resident Evil (a game that, like Bissell, I cherish) made me feel like I was there again--sitting on the carpeted floor in a dark room, frighteningly pulling the trigger and wasting precious ammo every time the phone rang (even though he did so on the PS1 for the first time and I played the "REmake"). And I thought, "If he does this with every game he discusses, it'll be like replaying my favorites!" Of course, Bissell doesn't do this for me the entire length of the book. For starters, he brings up close to a hundred games.
|Tom Bissel saw this...|
|...I saw this. We both peed our pants.|
And if he does this with a game that I'm very unlikely to ever get to (due to my enormous backlog), isn't that the next best thing? Fallout 3 and Mass Effect are huge RPGs requiring time or means I don't have (no XBOX, you see). But at least I can appreciate their intence work in dialogue trees that create a unique experience for every gamer, every time they play it--which is to say, on a level deeper than just, "ZOMG! fallout ftw!!!" And I'd always viewed Gears of War as just another war shooter without paying it much attention. But finally knowing what stands-out about it (besides its innovating cover-system and allowing one to curb-stomp enemies) and what went into them makes me want to play and appreciate it. That is a huge feat to Bissell's credit.
If I were to make any criticisms of Bissell's work, it would be his odd lack of Nintendo references. Granted, much of his book is memoir, and he can hardly be faulted if he simply didn't play Nintendo games or if they didn't resonate with him. But at some point, he was playing games with this book in mind, and choosing not to get into any of them (new, old, whatever) suggests to me that those games don't matter.
I realize that this is probably going out on a limb, but it goes back to my comment that most of the games Bissell mentions I haven't played (and given that I grew up on Nintendo, it's safe to assume that he's only played a similar handful of what I might have listed). I can only presume then that most readers would have played the same fraction of Bissell's games. And even if their own memoir contained the same entries, it would no doubt be filled with different experiences. I may be wrong, but I can't imagine too many gamers addicted to cocaine and Grand Theft Auto at the same time. How many gamers simply don't have games resonate with them in those ways?
|How many Gears of War players are more interested in fragging online than in Bleszinski's subtle attention to architecture?|
Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?