Calling all video gamers...here’s a novel about designing, playing and ultimately becoming obsessed with fantasy and science-fiction games.
The book involves two time periods: the halcyon early days of gaming, from 16-bit to 64-bit Commodore computing, and the contemporary world of realistic effects and virtual reality. One of the more significant questions the early pioneers wrestled with was, which is more important, the narrative arc of a story or graphics technology? While most opted for the former, one of the problems is that unpredictable and sometimes untoward things can and do happen in the world of games. Russell, the narrator of the story, had originally been one of the self-professed nerds who started writing code and creating games at a young age. He even graduated from college and had a year of law school before “dropping out” and joining some of his old friends at Black Arts games. The two leaders of this company were Simon, now deceased, and Darren, both held in awe by the gaming community. Simon was a true genius, with perfect scores on his SATs. Disdaining college, Simon developed a series of games that Russell discovers in a desk drawer. Meanwhile, Darren breaks away from Black Arts and takes most of the talent with him, leaving the inexperienced Russell in charge of designing a game that needs to be a blockbuster. Fantasy and reality get confused when Russell falls in love with a character on the screen. But, as he points out, why not? After all, she’s “smart and confident and had amazing hair, and she was a princess.” Reality is ever so much duller. While Russell becomes more and more obsessed with tracing Simon’s legacy through the games he discovers, he begins to get equally involved in the game he’s designing—and only negative things can come from this.
While Grossman’s imagination is fertile, the narrative is overly discursive and rambling.