Here in Chicago there is a lovely independent bookstore by the name of Quimby’s in my old neighborhood, Wicker Park. While I was living there and searching for a gift for my mother I came across the cover for Leopold McGinnis’s Game Quest.
I grew up in a family of gamers. Both my parents were primarily computer gamers, and in the 80’s, this meant there were a plethora of Sierra titles in our household–more specifically, the Quest titles. From being a police officer, a custodian in space, king of Daventry, or exploring the worlds of Glorianna, I spent a lot of my time working through these series. There was also a lot of time spent watching my mother play these titles.
It seemed the perfect gift to give my 40-something year old, still hardcore gaming mother. Given that my mother lives in Germany, I had time to actually read my own copy before my next visit, in which I presented it to her.
McGinnis’s novel is a thinly veiled look at what he imagines was happening to Ken and Roberta Williams’s household and company right before its acquisition. However, he also focuses on two other phenomenas of the time: the rise of corporations and growing popularity of the First Person Shooter. The former has him making up a company by the name of Che’s Coffee Revolution, a company that is being hip and bringing gourmet coffee to the masses–its allusion to Starbucks is hard to miss. The latter is done in both the sense that the company itself refuses to capitulate and produce such a game, and then having the daughter betray her father with her own love of the genre.
In a recent post entitled “Ready to Surrender My Gun” at the Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott laments the flooding of the gaming market with a plethora of titles that are all based off the FPS model. It made me think back on this book and its overall message.
Not only does McGinnis display a love for the old days of adventure games and track the changing landscape of gaming (conventions, an online community, and the rise of the FPS and smaller business models alongside the beginnings of shovelware and larger corporations), but he parallels it to the changing economy of the United States with corporations like Che’s Coffee Revolution threatening smaller cafes, such as Naughte Latte. While the novel definitely speaks to those of us who will quickly recognize what Madre really is, it also takes a rather scathing glare at the corporations who would gobble up these properties, turning them into money-making machines instead of the idea makers they had been (though, to be fair, Sierra had also been stagnating to some extent).
I am generally anti-corporation, but I do recognize the ever growing game industry. The desire for lucre has formed a lot of what we see today, from the plethora of Ubisoft’s ‘Z’ titles to series that have ever growing numbers (Sierra was just as guilty of this, but I’m still having a hard time digesting that I may see a Mortal Kombat 9) and the adaptations of movies that are adaptations of comics.
What we see is exactly that at which McGinnis points: brand loyalty. In his recent review of Consumed by Benjamin R. Barber, Iroquois Pliskin further examines Barber’s explanation of how companies’ can cultivate desire in a consumer: create a better product or gain their loyalty through branding. The problem lies in that fact that while the former allows for an expansion of the industry and usually results in innovation, the latter means you are creating an identity. His example includes Starbucks, which again led me to think on this book.
Branding and advertising are hard to avoid, though it affects us all in varying degrees. Upon my purchase of Final Fantasy XII I was rather amused as I stared at the package. Here I held a title that I guessed I would like (I was meh about it) purely because of its name. It was an example where I was consuming a product purely on the fact that it had a name I recognized, though knew nothing of the particulars beyond sexy sky pirate and his bunny-woman companion.
So, if you are willing to swallow the 500-page-pill and are in the anti-branding boat as a gamer, this book is a definite read (it even comes with adorable little pixel art). If you believe branding is a good thing for corporations and are a fanboy at heart, I would probably recommend steering clear of it. I won’t even bother you folk who might consume sugar-free vanilla, non-fat lattes…
Edit: As Michael Abbott pointed out, you can also read a PDF of this treasure online. However, I’d probably agree with him that it would be quite the task, considering its length.