Game On: Adventures in a Virtual World | The Reader’s Shelf

Video games are increasingly part of daily life, even for people who don’t consider themselves “gamers.” After all, it seems as if everyone these days is playing Angry Birds or Candy Crush on their smartphones. From a nostalgic love letter to geekdom’s past to a researcher dedicated to showcasing the real-world benefits of gaming, this list invites readers to explore the multiple dimensions of games.

In Ready Player One (Broadway. 2012. ISBN 9780307887443. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780307887450), Ernest Cline’s smart and charming paean to the 1980s and all things geeky, James Halliday, the creator of the world’s favorite pastime, a massive multiplayer online game, dies and leaves behind a quest for his devoted fans. Hidden away in OASIS—and locked behind puzzles related to the pop culture of the late 20th century that Halliday loved—is an astounding prize. Living in a grimly dystopian 2044, Wade Watts dreams of finding the treasure and escaping the slums of his stacked trailer park home. But he has to beat other, better-equipped seekers, Halliday scholars, and even corporations trying to take him down.

Replay: The History of Video Games by Tristan Donovan (Yellow Ant. 2010. ISBN 9780956507204. pap. $19.99) is an exhaustive history of video games from their origins in the 1940s, through the heyday of the 1980s, to today. A well-researched labor of love, the book is an inviting and rambling exploration that seamlessly blends cultural history with critical developments. Everything from Pong and Space Invaders to the impact of Apple computers and the rise of Nintendo and PlayStation is covered. The work concludes with a fascinating roundup of what the author thinks are the best and most important games ever created. With a foreword by Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima franchise and one of gaming’s most revered figures, this is a book for both seasoned gamers and newbies alike.

Cory Doctorow’s timely and intriguing thriller revolving around the very real economies of massive multiplayer online games, For the Win (Tor Teen. 2012. ISBN 9780765333841. pap. $10.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429989046) will appeal to both teens and adults. When teenagers around the globe end up on the wrong side of a virtual economy, they have to use their wits to survive. Battling real-world corporations in true cyberpunk style, they employ every trick they have to crash the markets of all the online games in the world. Doctorow’s fast-paced novel blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s a game, using the mechanics of online games to speculate on a fascinating future.

In Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot. 2013. ISBN 9780857663818. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780857660053), another group of constantly connected technophiles fights the powers that be. In an alternate future Cape Town, South Africa, being disconnected from the network is worse than prison, tantamount to death. But who’s really in charge, and what’s really going on? The book’s four narrators decide it’s time to find out, stand up to Government, Inc., and campaign for a better life in this inventive dystopian thriller. Fast-paced and gripping, the novel reimagines cyberpunk motifs for a new generation of readers.

The game developer’s perspective is offered in Austin Grossman’s suspenseful You (Mulholland: Little Brown. 2013. ISBN 9780316198530. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316198554). When game designer Russell Marsh joins the video company his old friends created, he’s happy to be working in a familiar setting. But he soon needs to know what happened to his friend Simon, who died mysteriously just after the company hit it big. When Russell finds a strange glitch in his newest game, the mystery gets bigger than he could have ever imagined, leading him through virtual worlds, real-life boardrooms, even back to childhood computer camp. Grossman draws on his own experiences as a game designer to write one of the most interesting and literary novels about video games to date.

Jane McGonigal’s entertaining and lively Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin. 2011. ISBN 9780143120612. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781101475492) is a great choice for readers still skeptical about all of this video game brouhaha. McGonigal has devoted her life to researching games and believes they are not just for escapist entertainment but are actually structured in ways that reveal core truths about human motivation. Using the principles of game design, she reasons, people can not only learn in new and intuitive ways but also solve real-world problems and achieve self-improvement goals. Taking a bold stance against the idea that games are merely mindless diversions, ­McGonigal argues that they will have a great impact on our ­future.

This column was contributed by Chris Magnifico, recent University of Washington MLIS graduate, Grand Rapids, MI
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at


  1. seriously, I think anyone part of our modern world should ready Ready Player One

  2. Neal says:


    Thanks for your comments. It is a great book and one I find so many people enjoy. I just suggested the audio version to a friend and he is loving it. Have you listened to it yet? Wil Wheaton was a great choice, for so many reasons.