En­ter­tain­ment fo­cused on our favourite type of en­ter­tain­ment

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01 Con­stel­la­tion Games

Leonard Richard­son

This is in­tel­li­gent and sharply funny first-con­tact sci-fi in its own right, and yet the real draw is not the ar­rival of aliens on Earth, but that they come bring­ing 20,000 years of ex­trater­res­trial games with them. The hero’s cap­sule reviews of odd­i­ties like Re­cap­ture That Re­mark­able Taste are mag­i­cally vivid, in­ven­tive and en­gag­ing, leav­ing you with a pow­er­ful long­ing to get your hands on the ‘Brain Em­bryo’ con­sole that plays them. And hu­man games ben­e­fit from Richard­son’s mas­ter­ful writ­ing too, most no­tably in a be­mused alien’s hi­lar­i­ously con­fused at­tempt to un­der­stand a vir­tual pony game.

02 For The Win

Cory Doc­torow

If you’re fa­mil­iar with Doc­torow, you won’t be sur­prised by the techno-utopian thread run­ning through this novel for teens. He imag­ines vast MMOGs (run by Coca-Cola, Mad Mag­a­zine and Nin­tendo) unit­ing ex­ploited young gold farm­ers into a globe-span­ning vir­tual union, spark­ing real-world un­rest. Yes, a character does at one point yell, “This isn’t a game!” It’s grip­ping, even as con­ver­sa­tions be­tween 14-year-olds jar­ringly be­come an­t­i­cap­i­tal­ist polemics, and the games them­selves – in­clud­ing a tan­ta­lis­ing mech MMOG that’s half Ti­tan­fall, half Power Rangers – get left be­hind.

03 Ghost In The Ma­chine Lana Polansky and Bren­dan Keogh (ed­i­tors)

A suit­ably haunt­ing col­lec­tion of short sto­ries that give voice and emo­tion to the char­ac­ters we con­trol. There’s fun in fig­ur­ing out the game ref­er­ences – An­i­mal Cross­ing is painted not so much as a wild world as a strangely sad one. And while not ev­ery tale is a suc­cess, An­drew Vanden Boss­che’s Good Losers Are Pretty will stay with you, dream­ily imag­in­ing a Fam­i­com ad­don that brings char­ac­ters out of the cart and into real life, with the bit­ter­sweet idea of a Mario who leapt out into the world but then “jumped away into the moun­tains… and was never seen again”.

04 Lucky Wan­der Boy

DB Weiss

It’s almost a shame Weiss has his hands full with HBO’s Game Of Thrones (he’s the co-cre­ator), be­cause here he ex­hib­ited a rare tal­ent for writ­ing au­then­ti­cally about fic­tional videogames. The Lucky Wan­der Boy coin-op at the novel’s heart is cap­ti­vat­ingly eerie, its mem­ory grad­u­ally un­hing­ing pro­tag­o­nist Adam Pen­ny­man (whose write­ups of ’80s games in his Cat­a­logue Of Ob­so­lete En­ter­tain­ments are know­ingly and hi­lar­i­ously over­wrought). Weiss man­ages to in­voke the dream­like qual­ity of half-re­mem­bered child­hood gaming, and how our imag­i­na­tion fills the space beyond a game’s vis­i­ble world.

05 Ready Player One

Ernest Cline

This is what you’d get if you could cap­ture in book form the gab­bled fan­tasies of an ’80s kid on a sugar rush. The Roald Dahl-es­que plot, wherein a rich de­vel­oper prom­ises his for­tune to the win­ner of a trea­sure hunt

inside a Sec­ond Life- es­que MMOG called OA­SIS, sends the young hero on quest through vir­tu­alised ’80s cul­ture where game knowl­edge hand­ily con­quers all. It’s ab­surd – at one point, he’s play­ing a game, play­ing Matthew Brod­er­ick in WarGames, play­ing Galaga – and the rules of OA­SIS be­come in­creas­ingly in­con­sis­tent as avatars wage war with a malev­o­lent In­ter­net ser­vice provider, but fun nonethe­less.

06 You

Austin Gross­man

You has a Capy-de­signed

Su­per­broth­ers cover and is writ­ten by an au­thor who helped cre­ate Sys­tem Shock, but savvy read­ers might wince as games are de­scribed like a Star Trek holodeck, and save files from a 1983 Rogue­like are ef­fort­lessly loaded into a 1997 space strat­egy game. It’s worth stick­ing with, though: Gross­man clev­erly weaves in­dus­try his­tory and de­vel­oper lore into the tale of a game pro­ducer trac­ing a strange bug through his company’s games – a bug that man­i­fests chill­ingly as a sen­tient NPC in one of the book’s best bits. Take this ad­vice, though: skip the dream se­quences.

07 Bed­lam

Christo­pher Brook­myre

Bed­lam’s bet­ter than your av­er­age pur­veyor of the trapped-in-a-game trope, be­cause the pro­tag­o­nist is dragged around a gaming mul­ti­verse where ’90s FPSes, Jet Set Willy and As­sas­sin’s Creed co­ex­ist. The jokes ease up half­way through, and then it bar­rels along nicely to­wards an un­ex­pect­edly af­fect­ing fin­ish.

08 Coin Opera 2 Kirsten Irv­ing and Jon Stone (ed­i­tors)

Trea­sure this rare sight­ing of the lesser-spot­ted game po­etry col­lec­tion, not least for its play­ful­ness: po­ems are writ­ten en­tirely in Play Sta­tion sym­bols or blos­som into Peggle’s colour scheme. The games and ap­proaches are pleas­ingly var­ied – Doom­dark’s Re­venge and Samorost sit along­side more main­stream choices – and there’s a fun ex­per­i­ment in ‘twoplayer’ po­ems.

09 Halt­ing State

Charles Stross

In near-fu­ture Scot­land, AR head­sets and ARGs are ev­ery­where, and MMOG economies are a mag­net for real-life crime. More about vir­tual worlds than games, but ab­sorb­ing if you can keep up with Stross’s usual crush of jar­gon, and an ex­po­nen­tially ridicu­lous plot curve that goes from fan­tasy bank heist to global clan­des­tine surveil­lance net­work in about 150 pages.

10 Joy­land

Emily Schultz

A com­ing-of-age drama set in 1982: two Cana­dian sib­lings shed their in­no­cence against the back­drop of the golden age of ar­cades. Schultz wanted to “mimic the move­ment and im­agery of games”, but in fact it’s the de­lib­er­ate, almost dream­like de­tail that stands out. The games, though they come rel­a­tively rarely, are de­scribed with a lit­er­ari­ness and poignancy that lingers.

11 Mog­world

Ben Croshaw

Zero Punc­tu­a­tion’s Croshaw mashes Terry Pratch­ett’s dry wit with Dou­glas Adam’s free­wheel­ing chaos when an un­dead zom­bie dis­cov­ers his world is all just a game. Mog­world’s awash with sar­donic nods to MMOG con­ven­tions, and Croshaw takes full ad­van­tage of the im­per­ma­nence of game death to put his poor char­ac­ters through a grimly funny se­ries of slap­stick ends.

12 Piranha Frenzy

Colin Camp­bell

Veteran game jour­nal­ist Camp­bell has clearly built up a head of steam about his in­dus­try – this evis­cer­ates the game me­dia, while also satiris­ing the ugly parts of ev­ery side of gaming in a way that fore­shad­owed many re­cent con­tro­ver­sies. Be­tween the fan­boys, de­vel­op­ers, mar­keters and me­dia, no one comes out of this look­ing good.

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