Books about vintage video games are piling up higher than Tetris blocks on a “game over” screen.
While the number of video-game history books pales in comparison to such entertainments as film, music and television, there is a plethora of new and recently published offerings to consider, whether you want to read about Atari, Nintendo, Sega or the industry at-large.
Here are seven such tomes that will take gamers down memory lane.
The Art of Atari
By Tim Lapetino
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
As its title suggests, this hardcover coffee-table book focuses on a previously neglected aspect of the industry: Atari box and advertising art. The pages are beautifully designed, giving readers a clear, colorful look at the painted aliens, athletes, astronauts, soldiers, spaceships and other images that sold consumers on Atari products.
Lapetino profiles some of the more prolific Atari artists, whose illustrations helped guide the imaginations of people who played the graphically primitive, yet often highly enjoyable games. Gameplay details and unreleased art add to the fun.
Coleco: The Official Book
By Antoine Clerc-Renaud and Jean-Francois Dupuis
Publisher: BooQC Publishing
Founded in 1932 by Maurice Greenberg, the Connecticut Leather Company processed shoe leather initially, made leather craft kits during the 1950s and manufactured plastic toys and wading pools during the 1960s. But the company, which changed its name to Coleco Industries Inc. in 1961, is best known as the creator of Cabbage Patch Kids and the ColecoVision, both of which were released in 1982 and enjoyed tremendous popularity.
This book goes into detail on these and other aspects of Coleco (such as the failed Adam Computer), from the beginning all the way to the present. The final 60-plus pages consist of interviews with former Coleco employees, giving them the spotlight they richly deserve.
Debugging Game History: A Critical Lexicon
Edited by Henry Lowood and Raiford Guins
Publisher: The MIT Press
Grab a pipe, don your finest robe and settle into an easy chair, a studious expression on your face and Debugging Game History perched in your lap. This is a scholarly work, examining in detail the world of video game nomenclature, including the contextual meaning of such terms as “adventure,” “character,” “console,” “controller,” “platform,” “role-play” and ‘walkthrough.”
There’s even a chapter on “fun,” in which game designer Raph Koster (Ultima Online) defines the word as a “form of mastery and comprehension of patterns.” If you’re tired of mindless, expletive-laden YouTube videos and need a little more erudition in your gaming life, check out this book.
Downright Bizarre Games: Video Games That Crossed the Line
By Michael Thomasson
Publisher: Good Deal Games
Michael Thomasson teaches college-level video game history, design and graphics. He’s also a respected writer, contributing to an assortment of books and trade publications. Which is why it’s surprising that his first solo effort would emphasize the humor found in gaming.
Using colorful illustrations and entertaining, informative text, Thomasson spotlights such wacky games as Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64 and Porky’s and Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes for the Atari 2600, among numerous others. To break up the alphabetical listing, he inserted “commercial breaks” and “news bulletins” featuring strange box art and memorable video-game quotes.
Phoenix IV: The History of the Videogame Industry
By Leonard Herman
Publisher: Rolenta Press
Way back in 1994, when the study of video-game history was barely a genre, Leonard Herman published Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Home Videogames. Now, more than 20 years later, he’s completed the fourth iteration, changing the title and updating (and largely rewriting) the book with more photos, more detailed information and expanded coverage.
Herman chronicles the history of his favorite hobby in exhaustive fashion, from Willy Higinbotham’s oscilloscope game Tennis for Two to Ralph Baer’s legendary Brown Box prototype to Sega vs. Nintendo to all the key events that happened in 2015, and everything in between. This is required reading for anyone interested in the subject.
Playing at the Next Level: A History of American Sega Games
By Ken Horowitz
Written by English professor Ken Horowitz, who runs www.sega-16.com, Playing at the Next Level tells you as much as you would ever want to know about Sega, the company that once passed Nintendo as the No. 1 video-game console maker in North America.
Horowitz, drawing from nearly 100 interviews with former Sega personnel, ably covers a variety of topics, including production details behind such notable titles as Sonic the Hedgehog and Jurassic Park. To paraphrase a Sega tagline from the 1990s, “This book does what others don’t.”
Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library (1985-1995)
By Pat Contri
Publisher: The Punk Effect
Popular online personality Pat “The NES Punk” Contri, known for his “Completely Unnecessary Podcast” and “Flea Market Madness” videos, has weighed in on the retro video-game book craze with this weighty tome. It’s comprehensive and thorough, featuring reviews, descriptions, reflections, screen shots and cartridge photos of every game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
In addition, the book contains supplemental essays by an assortment of YouTubers, covering such topics as the NES launch, horror on the NES and NES music. (Author’s note: I contributed to Mr. Contri’s book, but receive no compensation for book sales.)
Brett Weiss is the author of the “Classic Home Video Games” book series (McFarland Publishers) and The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 (Schiffer Publishing).