I’ve been fascinated by all things ‘Geek History’ in the last couple of years, and recently, I’ve been trying to read up a bit more on the history of gaming. If that’s something that you’d like to read up on a bit more, Richard Stanton’s A Brief History of Video Games: The Evolution Of A Global Industry is probably the book that you’re looking for.
A Brief History of Video Games is part of Running Press’ series of brief histories: this one covers the wide range of video gaming, from the earliest days of the field, right up to Minecraft and Oculus Rift. For an introduction to the topic, without an expectation of a lot of depth, Stanton does a very good job covering a complex field, and the book will serve as a good reference for anyone interested in the history of gaming in general.
Starting from the earliest days of computers, Stanton traces the rise of video gaming from bored programmers working on mainframe computers to arcade cabinets to the invention of standalone consoles. What we get is a great blend of hardware, storytelling and business history, which collectively charts the development of the field. This is a fascinating story in and of itself, and Santon goes over it concisely and quickly, without ever getting all that bogged down in the numerous rabbit holes. This serves as a good introductory text to the field, and it’s provided a considerable amount of context for my own gaming habits.
While the book is largely comprehensive of the field, there’s some odd omissions. There’s no mention of games like Asteroids or King’s Quest or Lode Runner, and some major games, such as Halo, get some page time, but quickly, even though it seems as though there’s a lot more to discuss about its particular impact. More critically, there’s only a brief chapter on the rise of mobile gaming, which seems like a real oversight when it comes to the direction of the industry.
This is one of the downsides to any sort of introduction: it leaves one wanting more, and while there’s some other great books out there - Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake Harris is one that I’ve been reading that sinks into quite a bit of specific detail - the balance between comprehensive overview and detailed story is a difficult one to navigate.
Fortunately, despite some of the missing things that I wanted to read a bit more about, Stanton does a good job covering the industry at large, charting the boom and bust of the 1980s, and the rise of console gaming throughout the 1990s and beyond.
Looking at the field from the top down, it makes for an exciting story, one that is both complicated and dynamic, with epic stories of hobby inventors ultimately creating a multi-billion dollar industry. A Brief History of Video Games is probably the best overview book of the industry that I’ve read thus far, and if you’ve ever owned a video game console, it makes for an interesting book to read through to see how your favorite games were created.