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Dishonored Writer's New Novel Shows a Video Game Generation Being Born

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If you’ve ever thought that it’s long past time that someone wrote a novel about people who make video games, then rejoice. YOU—a book of fiction about the how, why and who of video game development by Austin Grossman—comes out today. You can read an excerpt from the book’s first chapter right here.

Grossman isn’t just a novelist. He contributed to last year’s hit stealth/action hybrid Dishonored and also worked on classic games like System Shock and Deus Ex. So he’s just the guy to plumb the murky depths of the psyches of the people who make games, even if he doesn’t really like Gordon Freeman. After all, lawyers get novels written about them. So do doctors and writers and filmmakers. Now there’s a work of fiction dedicated to the folks who create the worlds millions of people lose themselves in every day.


The excerpt that follows main character Russell Marsh looking back to the time that he realized that those same computers in his grade-school classrooms could play games. If you’re of a certain age, the moment will feel VERY familiar:

The state of the technology meant characters were drawn on 8x12 pixel grids a strangely potent, primitive scale, dogs and mailmen and robots becoming luminous pictoglyphs hovering in the dark. The cursory, dashed-off feel of the stories seemed to have opened a vein of vivid whimsy in the minds of the programmers and engineers of this first wave. The same limitations threw games into weird nonperspectival spaces. Games like Berzerk and Wizard of Wor take place in bright Escher-space where overhead and side views combine.

And the dream-logic plots. Worlds where touching anything meant instant death, where mushrooms are friends and turtles are enemies. In each one there I felt the presence of a deep logic living just off-screen, each one is a bright painting telling a not-quite-explained story: why am I a plumber fighting an ape for a princess? Why am I, a lone triangle, battling a fleet of squares? Who decided that?

And adults hated to be in there. It gave them headaches and made them look stupid when we all knew how to play and what to do because we were growing up with a technology whose buried rules made sense to us. In the swirling primordial mix of children and teenagers, hormones and technology were combining to form a new cultural idea. Some days I spent up to three hours here after school, dimly aware that we were the first people, ever, to be doing these things. We were feeling something they never had—a physical link into the world of the fictional—through the skeletal muscles of the arm to the joystick to the tiny person on the screen, a person in an imagined world. It was crude but real. We’d fashioned an outpost in the hostile, inaccessible world of the imagination, like dangling a bathysphere into the crushing dark of the deep ocean, a realm hitherto inaccessible to humankind. This is what games had become. Computers had their origin in military cryptography—in a sense, every computer game represents the commandeering of a military code-breaking apparatus for purposes of human expression. We’d done that, taken that idea and turned it into a thing its creators never imagined, our own incandescent mythology.

This excerpt runs with permission from Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company. You can get more information about the book at this snazzy-looking website.