Halloween is here and the usual offenders are making an appearance: Hannibal Lecters, flesh-eating zombie cheerleaders and mad axe murderers to name a few. Have you ever considered a different killer, however? One more associated with killing time than people, but lurks among all corners of society nevertheless? Death By Video Game opens with the death of Chen Rong-Yu, who lay dead in a Taiwanese cafe for 9 hours before anybody noticed. He had been playing the popular game League of Legends for more than 23 hours.
Written by esteemed video game guru, Simon Parkin, Death By Video Game asks why it is that some of us are playing games beyond the limits of our physical wellbeing? In other words, what makes video games so addictive? Novice or pro-gamer, it’s a feeling any body who has sat in front of a screen playing Sims 2 until their bladder is bulging and their eyes are watering will recognise. ‘Video games give us a sense of achievement that is, in the moment at least, indistinguishable from success outside of the game,’ writes Parkin; ‘In reality, success is rarely reported so straightforwardly.’
If you’re not an avid video gamer, don’t be put off. The only games in my repertoire are a couple of Crash Bandicoot PS2 discs from 2006 and I still found it a deeply thought-provoking read. At times, Parkin goes into so much detail about gaming history and technique I felt it would be more appreciated by the ‘addicts’ that the book documents.
However, the thoughtful social and cultural analysis makes it all worthwhile. Attempting to defend video games and tackle the stigma they face in the media, the book retells a series of case studies in which the creation and the act of playing video games can enlighten or benefit us. One gamemaker created an autobiographical game in order to cope with the diagnosis of his son’s character, after attending a Meaningful Gameplay Jam event, one of many which aim to inspire games that ‘cause someone to live differently’. Dear Mother, freely available to play on the internet, was created by a man trying to find a way to deal with his mother’s rejection after coming out as bisexual. Another man uses Skyrim to cope with the death of his unborn child.
Sometimes it seems that the book is slightly too defensive. Given the target audience, I felt that Parkin was trying to convince the already convinced of the ‘shimmering, vivid, endlessly exciting potential’ that video games can provide. It goes without saying that this is one for the shelf of any game fan, but don’t dismiss it if this isn’t your usual area of expertise–Death By Video Game is a universal tale of obsession, addiction and healing.
Featured image from simonparkin.com.