Press Start to Play
Edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
528 Pages, $15.95
Vintage (Penguin Random House)
Videogames are incredible analogies for sports. They have, and by all accounts, will continue to create a new understanding of what we consider sport. Gamers are constantly trying to beat the systems in place, whether that is a Hideo Kojima title or a speed-run of Super Mario 3. They want to break records in the same way that fans want someone to break Barry Bond’s 71 homeruns or Michael Jordan’s six championships. Now, especially now, there is a movement of creating games to be more like sports. E-sports like League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Halo are becoming as significant as Major League Soccer. People love to be their own Babe Ruth. Press Start to Play, another top notch anthology produced by John Joseph Adams, showcases the ups and downs of videogames and their effects on the human mind; it shows that they are as romantic as baseball, intricate as soccer, as violent as football, and as obsessive as the fans who cheer on the sideline. It is the epitome of everything good and bad in the world we live and foresee ourselves in.
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was something of a catalyst for writing fiction about video games. It wasn’t the first, nor the best, but it was written by a man who had grew up during the golden age of videogames and created a new adventure, one that was fought and journeyed through on a computer screen. This collection includes stories like that, but there are also cautionary tales, stories of love found and lost, and fictions that are important to the literary community as Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” An added bonus to the reader, especially one well trained in the videogame arts, is the inclusion of actual crafters of videogames; Micky Neilson, the lead writer at Blizzard Entertainment; Mark Laidlaw, the lead writer for the Half-Life series; Chris Avellone, the creative director at Obsidian Entertainment all contribute incredible stories to this collection. We have stories by literary writers like Charles Yu, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, T.C. Boyle, Austin Grossman, and Andy Weir. The writing in this collection transcends that of any one form. Videogames have always told stories, even the ones the kids think are primitive now, but they are monumental stories in the same vein Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are for so many of the creative ilk.
This isn’t a collection of Cline-like nostalgic walkthroughs of old games. There is horror, actual exploration of what constitutes science fiction, romance, and heroes in the truest sense of the world. This isn’t fanfiction of men and women writing about games. It has a pulse on the moment, that awe of the first time you saw the opening title for any of your favorite games. S.R. Mastrantone’s “Desert Walk” made me put the book down and consider the mythic nature of unreleased games and the stories we tell to convince ourselves of legends. “Save Me Plz” by David Barr Kirtley is one of the hidden gems of this collection. It is the story that focuses on the relationships we develop with games, with each other. In many ways, it is the thematic core of the book. We love the chase; we love the action of saving the princess and when we find her, our logical reasoning is that we must do it again. We live for the restart.
These stories represent both the importance of games and the people that play and create them. They are all labyrinths, the stories and the games, and they act as mazes that we never intend to escape from. Collections are fickle beasts to tame, there is an overwhelming fear that one story will outweigh the rest and spoil the reader, and a greater fear of that one story that may leave a sour taste in your mouth. Press Play to Start is one of the rare collections that keeps the reader hungrier with every passing story. One might question why we even need a collection like this, or if Cline’s like revolution of videogame stories is simply a fad waiting to pass like the Dreamcast. And another would counter that, this collection should not and will not be sectioned off as a mere collection of nerdy stories; it is an utter and visceral look at our humanity, a reflection of us as both Bowser and Mario.
Review by Nick Sweeney, Stymie Books Reviewer
Header Photo Credit: BRICK 101 via Compfight cc