Book Review: "Extra Lives" by Tom Bissell

  • Publish Date: June 15, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 2 user comments

Although, at the moment, we do not regularly compile book reviews, we will from time to time highlight books that are of particular interest to our users, like this new release that touches on many aspects of gaming.

Metascore (out of 100):
Generally favorable reviews

Book details

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell
Pantheon, 2010, 240 pages, nonfiction
ISBN: 0307378705
List price: $22.95
More information: Official Book Site

When not writing, Portland, Ore.-based author Tom Bissell (The Father of All Things, God Lives in St. Petersburg) can typically be found gaming, spending hours at a time in front of his various consoles. In Extra Lives, he mounts a defense of this misunderstood medium. A cross between memoir and criticism, the new book examines the highs and lows of gaming today, profiles some of the top videogame creators, and chronicles Bissell's own obsessive journey through Grand Theft Auto IV.

Published reviews

Click on any hyperlinked publication name below to read the full review. (If a publication is not linked, it means that the full review is not available online.)
Critics Who Loved the Book
  Publication Reviewer
  Paste Jason Killingsworth
Extra Lives is the first truly indispensable work of literary nonfiction about society’s most lucrative entertainment medium. Bissell’s commentary is marvelously astute and his enthusiasm for games makes even his words on the printed page feel positively backlit. [Score: 9.2/10]
  Publishers Weekly [Uncredited]
[A] scintillating meditation on the promise and discontents of video games. ... Bissell excels both at intellectual commentary and evocative reportage on the experience of playing games, while serving up engrossing mise-en-scene narratives of the mayhem. ["Pick of the Week," 5 April 2010, p.1]
  Slate Farhad Manjoo
Fantastic ... Extra Lives is a meditation on whether games can offer anything deeper than narcotic thrill. ... I wish, someday, to play a game that will stay with me as long as this book about games.
Critics Who Generally Liked the Book
  Publication Reviewer
  Austin Chronicle James Renovitch
An intelligent one-stop read that introduces modern gaming's big questions. ... At times, the book has a bit of an identity crisis, switching between a textbook's density and a memoir's personality.
  Austinist Sarah Wambold
Though the self-consciousness in Bissell's writing ... may feel over-wrought at times, it also feels necessary in that he needs to channel both his gamer and non-gamer selves to reach his point. A compelling description of what it means to be a gamer with intentions, Extra Lives will no doubt speak for many.
  The Barnes & Noble Review Edward Champion
[A] brave book ... Much of the book's appeal originates from Bissell's reserved eccentricities, which provides some heft to the staid duty of describing the act of playing video games.
  Booklist David Pitt
Not just for gamers, the book should also appeal to readers who have some serious questions about the nature and impact of video games and their increasing popularity. [15 April 2010, p.16]
  Richmond Times-Dispatch Doug Childers
"Extra Lives" isn't aimed at the non-gamer. ... For gamers, though, "Extra Lives" offers some much-needed smart talk about a medium ripe for a paradigm shift.
  San Francisco Chronicle Dan Zigmond
Fascinating ... He skillfully maintains sufficient detachment to describe each game with the same sort of evocative detail and often ironic prose found in his other works of memoir and fiction. ... "Extra Lives" reads more like a collection of essays than a sustained argument, and Bissell's conclusions often seem tentative at best.
  Time Out New York Max Read
This relentless honesty is there to win over doubters, yes, but also to remind gaming’s cheerleaders of where the medium falls short. It’s an important move, but the author sometimes becomes tiresome as he dwells extensively on mediocre games. ... Bissell’s writing is far more interesting—and much more rewarding—when he focuses on how his subject fascinates him.
  Very Short List [Uncredited]
Above all, Bissell’s writing is casual, smart and funny -- perfect for bringing to light a complex world usually, and quite literally, shrouded in darkness.
  Wall Street Journal Jonathan V. Last
Unusually for the videogame book genre, Mr. Bissell brings to his subject not only a handy way with a game controller but also a deft literary style and a journalist's eye. ... "Extra Lives" is the most fun you'll ever have reading about videogames. It may prove even more entertaining than playing them.
Critics Who Had Mixed Feelings About the Book
  Publication Reviewer
  The L Magazine Ned Vizzini
Bissell ... spends most of Extra Lives establishing his fractious, insular, and plaintively male voice. It's the voice of a person who likes first-person shooters. It's also the voice of our first video game critic.
  Los Angeles Times Abigail Deutsch
His ambivalence can grow tiring, and his analyses can tilt toward contradiction. ... In the end, one remembers the passion, and passion provides this volume with many enlightening and expansive moments.
Critics Who Generally Disliked the Book
  Publication Reviewer
  Kirkus Reviews [Uncredited]
Parts of this uneven investigation into the aesthetics of the gaming experience are as thrilling and fresh as the best writing on any subject--particularly his confessional chapter on Grand Theft Auto IV--but most of the chapters fall short of that high standard. ... Too much of the book is surprisingly amateur, as awkwardly expressed as a bright but underachieving fan-boy's private journals. [15 February 2010]

For books, we divide critic reviews into five categories (loved, liked, mixed, disliked, hated) based on the overall impression given by each review, although in this case, no reviews fell into the latter category. The overall Metascore listed at the top of this page (falling into a range of 100/best to 0/worst) is based on the percentage of reviews falling into each category.

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Comments (2)

  • Brian  

    Yeah! for book reviews!!

  • Vincent  

    When you guys had included this novel in another feature of yours, I was greatly disappointed that you guys stopped following "Books" on Metacritic. It means alot for you to compile these reviews for this specific book. Thanks!

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