I’m going to be keeping this review reasonably short. Not because I have little to say (I really could talk about this book for hours – and will certainly be doing so if you meet me in a drinking establishment) but because I run the risk of repeating myself. What I mean by this will become clear, but first, everyone’s favourite part of a review.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am writing this review for VideoBrains, an event which focuses on videogames and runs in London. This means that I’ve met a few of the people written about in this book, most recently George, Ed and William. Although this was only in passing it’s given me a chance to find out a little more about them in a particular context. However, I have not read the blogs from which this book came nor was I involved in the crowdfunding that made this book possible.
I have not met Cara. Importantly, I now feel I have.
If you feel that this review is biased in any way then it the book has made me biased to itself, like a friend, or someone I respect. This may be a better review than the one that follows.
Embed with Games is an anthology, comprised of a number of long articles written by Cara Ellison, which charts her experiences while travelling the world and meeting various game developers over the course of a year. It’s written as gonzo journalism, and Cara is just as much a presence as any of the people she meets. The words are raw, filled with emotion and intensity, and this makes it quite a difficult thing to review.
There are a few mistakes and some unfinished elements, such as the inclusion of “INSERT PICTURE REFERENCE”, and one noticeable contradiction about opera which jarred a little. However, are these things to be criticised, or are they part of the performance? If they were edited out and polished up, then the book would lose some of its honesty – how on earth can I criticise something for being honest?
That means I’m going to offer you the bulk of my thoughts in kind. While reading I was making notes, working out what to say, what I did and didn’t like, moments after reading it. So why not publish those notes and chart an immediate and honest reaction to what I read?
So that’s what I’ve done and below is a full transcript of the notes I made. I jumped around adding notes here and there, so they don’t appear in entirely chronological order. I’ve also included scans of those pages at the bottom, although I apologise for my handwriting (that’s one benefit of word processing stuff I guess).
If you don’t want to read them, fine, I’ll give you my ‘verdict’ as it is:
I didn’t know too much about Cara before reading Embed with Games, now I admire her acheter 10 viagra. This book made me want to play games, it makes me want to make games. I can’t really offer higher praise than that.
Embed with Games: A Year on the Couch with Game Developers by Cara Ellison will be out on November 19th.
Page One (extra notes)
Regarding spelling errors and editorial misses: (INSERT PICTURE REFERENCE). I don’t know if they will be in the final version (ebooks eh?). But this is the kind of book that gets away with it. Are they deliberate? This is all about showing the people & systems behind games, so seeing the rough and revealed parts of this book feel strangely fitting.
Scattered with excellent reviews Nidhogg pg 30 (is it anymore?)
[Arrow pointing to first paragraph] It is a rough thing, and a raw thing.
[Title] Embed w/Games
Disclosure: I’m writing for VB who are part of the London indie scene. This means I’ve met George, William & Ed (albeit briefly), but I’ve never met Cara. Importantly, I now feel that I have.
If you feel I am biased then the book has made me biased to itself, like a friend – or someone I respect. This may be a better review than the one that follows.
George – The Anti-Gamer
[Arrow pointing to first paragraph] No blog, no patreon
Tim Rogers – Intersection of the mythic and the real. Describing something that so many people feel. Cara about Tim, but I imagine other people about Cara. I have my own – 20 & 30 somethings from the internet who bumble along & become legendary without knowing why. It’s a very human thing.
‘Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail’ appears and reappears, like an Indie spirit.
It gives me the feeling that I get when I read many articles from Five Out of Ten. [The following is circled] That games are for humans & humans make games.
There is sometimes a slightly awkward reach for something profound & occasionally it jars (Liz’s walls). But given what I’ve written [the following is continued on the bottom of page four, placed here for clarity] end of this, I’m guilty of that myself – so maybe I’m just annoyed because I find it admirable.
Each entry is set-up with a tremendous sense of place – desc. of Berkely. [Arrow down]
Helps to counteract the intense, dreamlike quality of the rest of the writing. Without that ballast it might float away, becoming overwrought and whimsical crap. But together they hit this mesmerising sweet-spot.
The way she weaves the quotes in with the narrative is masterful & makes me forget I’m reading things that have been written (or recorded) at different time: It isn’t ‘call & response’, but a flow.
I think the reason I don’t have too much to criticise is Cara is great at making it feel like the interviewee is talking to you, but when she wants to, dragging her focus back to her relationship with the interviewee too – Not quite reportage & not quite navel gazing.
[In a box] How can I criticize how someone tells me what they think?
[Arrow pointing to box] Lack of pretence (most of the time) when it could so easily have been stuffed full of it.
It’s about writing in the games industry & the writing industry & the games writing industry
[Arrow pointing to previous paragraph] Now I’m just performing because I know I’m going to scan this in.
[Arrow pointing to previous paragraph] This is also a performance
[Arrow pointing to previous paragraph] And this
[Arrow pointing to previous paragraph] And this forever…
[Arrow pointing to end of previous page] It might seem egotistical, showing off overtly in a review about someone else’s work (although what is a review, but a massive workout for your ego) but this is what embed (in-bed, mention this pun) with games is making me think. It’s making me work to create & perform. So really, this is all part of the review.
Adriaan [Arrow pointing down]
I like it because she talks about talented people being younger than her & even though I’m 25 I feel like that a lot. I agree with her about William Pugh. Young, talented bastard that he is.
Such an interesting & diverse set of people, different cultures, classes, experiences & (most importantly for this book) reasons to why they make games.
“There is a responsibility to cover poor, talented developers whose work you personally love. It is your responsibility to find those people & dissect why their work is good, where it comes from. Everyone benefits from originality & perspective, & the developer gets to eat at the end of it”
[Arrow pointing to previous paragraph] Tattoo this onto my brain [Arrow pointing down]
Cara knew this quote was good, she italicised it herself, & she’s right, it is good.
One point where she forgets her own article for a joke: ‘1st time a game developer has expressed an interest in opera. [Arrow pointing down]
Early embed was with someone who trained in Baroque opera.
[Arrow pointing to previous paragraph] disappointing & jarring, but as an anthology over a year, maybe understandable.
Should that kind of mistake have been edited out? Maybe it’s intrinsic to the experience.
Don’t know what it was like as a serial, but reading this all at once you get a real sense of a journey, of growth.
[Arrow pointing to quote from page seven] That feels like a realisation that occurs in front of you, that’s great.
It’s now 00:43 & I have work in the morning. I’ve been reading since 20.30 & am 168 pages through (of 203). I didn’t read for this long because I’m reviewing it.
[Arrow pointing to previous paragraph] Fuck you ‘unputdownable’, THIS is how you say you enjoyed a book.
Maybe a bit of preamble (disclosure, methodology, some key points, apology about handwriting) then just scan the notes.
I think Cara summarises herself pretty aptly in the epilogue and so I’m largely just reworking & regurgitating, but Embed with games crystallises now around people currently making games, but throws it forward & looks to the future. It highlights how we live in such an exciting time for games. But it’s always been exciting & it always will be, because people like this will always be making games.