'Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution'


Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution

by Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby

Algonquin, 296 pp., $24.95

Looking for the password to the insular world of obsessive gamerdom? Smartbomb could be the passkey that lets you beeline through the Tony Hawk-playing dilettantes and appear as if you've been a level-126 Nanomage since time immemorial. All this without having to prop your eyelids open while being force-fed countless images of first-person shooters and massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). Just as intensely frightening, however, is Smartbomb's theories for the future of gaming.

As if the ghost of video game present weren't scary enough, with people paying real money on eBay for MMO virtual currency and enough people obsessing over EverQuest to necessitate "EverQuest Widows" support groups. When individuals refer to "real life" as "RL" society's in trouble. Smartbomb's future seems so dark you might want to redirect the funds you're saving for that PlayStation 3 and throw it into some faith-based initiative. Will Wright, the brain behind the Sim dynasty, envisions a future where a game can learn your desires and adapt without your noticing. Scared yet? How about the U.S. Army's plan to create what have been dubbed "Future Objective Force Warriors" using their America's Army MMO?

Luckily, the book isn't all fire and brimstone. This insider's look into the suddenly legendary movers and shakers of the gaming universe is readable in a way that bridges the gap between gamers and mere mortals. As a member of the human race, it's hard not to cheer when, after a staff of 400 worked roughly two years led by Austinites Rich Vogel and Raph Koster, Star Wars Galaxies works out the glitches and starts sapping free time and bank accounts. Similarly, the rise of Atari can easily be read as an American folktale combining two stereotypes of modern success: the inventor (Steve "Slug" Russell) and the entrepreneur (Nolan Bushnell). Authors Chaplin and Ruby succeed in telling the stories of individuals with day-in-the-life panache while piecing said stories neatly into the otherwise cumbersome tapestry of video-game history.

When Stephen Hawking envisioned a "theory of everything," he said everyone – even those without a doctorate in quantum mechanics – should be able to understand it. Will Wright and his SimEverything take steps in that very direction, including all of life from the primordial ooze to colonization of distant planets. And why wouldn't video games be the medium that elucidates the mysteries of the universe? If astrophysics were as enjoyable as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, then we'd all be bending space-time to make more room for gaming. Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby will be at BookPeople on Nov. 14, 7pm.

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Smartbomb:The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution, Heather Chaplin, Aaron Ruby, Algonquin

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