Nov 23, 2010

Games of Empire - A Book Review

Remember books? Remember their smell? The way they made you think and question stuff? Well, you really should dear reader. The times are desperate and knowledge can indeed make you powerful, kind, beautiful and heroic. And since, dear reader, I know how much you like games, let me present you with the key that will help you understand what they are all about: Games of Empire - Global Capitalism and Video Games by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. It apparently is a book and smells lovely. You can and quite frankly should order it from the University of Minnesota Press, though I'll admit to ordering my copy from Amazon. Anyway, here's the UMP link.

Unlike most gaming books I've read so far Games of Empire is neither a game creation guide, nor a retro gaming essay, though it admittedly does cover most of video gaming's history, yet in a way you've definitely not been accustomed to. Instead of finding some sort of childish glee in the birth of Mario and Space War the authors prefer to look at the nation-bombing military complex that allowed for the first video games to be created, being especially interested in pointing out the obvious antithesis of the joys of playing and being creative to the ultimate horror that is war. Unless of course war is slowly being turned into a plaything or games -like, say, America's Army- are used as recruitment tools, which also happens to be a subject Games of Empire isn't afraid to tackle.

Then again, this is a book that tries to completely lift the fetishistic veil covering the games industry, tackling everything from the militaristic propaganda of Full Spectrum Warrior and the racist/sexist overtones of most mainstream games, to the underpaid people working in the industry or even the wars the production of consumer electronics has fueled. Yes, the wars. The interesting little stories about money laundering via Second Life and the informal economies of gold farming aren't left out either.

History and shocking facts aside and despite the book's fascination with Negri's not particularly impressive imperial theory, Games of Empire does manage to come up with an extraordinary -impressively, quite entertaining too- critique of video games. It shows how a World of Warcraft player is indeed both a consumer and a producer of value, discusses the representations of actual space and spatial relations in games (mostly GTA IV) and even helps us hope that indie and radical games can fight the good fight, while avoiding any kind of conservative moral hysterics. Games of Empire is an eye-opener. And you too dear reader have to read it. 

Here's the back of the book blurb to further intrigue you:

Video games have become an integral part of global media culture, rivaling Hollywood in revenue and influence. No longer confined to a subculture of adolescent males, video games today are played by adults around the world while also serving as major sites of corporate exploitation and military recruitment. In Games of Empire , Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter offer a radical political intrigue of such video games and virtual environments as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Grand Theft Auto, analyzing them as the exemplary media of Empire, the twenty-first-century hypercapitalist complex theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The authors trace the ascent of virtual gaming, assess its impact on creators and players alike, and delineate the relationships between games and reality, body and avatar, screen and street. rejecting both moral panic and glib enthusiasm, Games of Empire demonstrates how virtual games crystallize the cultural, political, and economic forces of global capital, while also providing a means of resisting them.

Oh, and fuck off banal internet-man. Video games are not just games. 

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. Whenever people discuss the joys of downloading various things in digital format and I say "But when you buy the real, physical thing you can smell the odour of new, exciting possibilities contained within!" I get accusatory stares that seem to regard me as a perverted fetishist over such scents.

    Good to see I'm not the only one who regards the smell of books as one of the important aspects of them!

    Also, interesting book I've never heard of until now. Time for research!

  2. Hooray for the ever expanding perverted fetishists cult! Seriously though, the physical sensation of the book and the aesthetic control of the publisher on a definite final form is why I haven't grabbed a Kindle yet. Zoomable non-smelly text can't be really exciting.

    As for Games of Empire, as I've said above, it's an eye opener, even if you don't agree with its take on, say, globalization (I don't for example).

  3. Never met anyone else who enjoyed the smell of books before, or maybe it's just that it has never come up in conversation before.

  4. Judging by Ben's reaction, we are many! Hooray! Venceremos!

  5. Let us hold our perverted heads high, noses skywards, searching the air for any traces of knowledge lurking around each corner!

  6. I will never go fully digital. Call me retarded, but the smell and touch of a book is part of the reading experience. So I'm with you on that one.

    As for the book itself, colour me interested. I have recently bought Bissell's book "Extra lives", but have not read it yet. Nevertheless, the one you recommend seems to treat the whole gaming world from completely different angle.

  7. @ Ben304: (holds head high, sharpens nose but suddenly gets distracted and downloads a hentai clip) Damn!

    @ Barts: I knew you were on our side my friend. Oh, and I'm absolutely sure you especially will appreciate this book. It is a rarely insightful look at gaming from an almost revolutionary perspective. Well, almost.

  8. The pursuit of intellectual advancement foiled by the lure of pleasures of the flesh once more.

    Ah well, there's plenty of time for learning after a bit of good old fashioned debauchery :)

  9. Indeed. After all Confucius did say thus.

  10. I love the smell of books. Especially the smell of good books. I like the feel of them, I can catch myself selflessly caressing books for hours..

    Too much said ^__^

  11. Uh.. huh. Great idea that DN!

  12. The book sounds interesting. I'd read about it before, but it's good to hear that it doesn't devolve into hysterics.
    And yes, I also like the smell of books.

  13. I knew this blog was attracting all them book-smellers. God help us... Also, trust me, this is as far from hysterics as you can imagine. And theoretically -also widely politically- interesting.

  14. I too, am a page-sniffer. A grain-examiner. A spine-caresser if you will. Although I really like the IDEA of a Kindle, it just seems like such a sterile delivery system that I fear the experience would be more like an information download than a delightful read and thus rob me of part of the fun.

    Thanks for the book review Gnome - looks interesting.

  15. My thoughts exactly those MadPlanet. Though I do believe that playing Zork on something with e-ink would be quite brilliant.

    Spine-caresser. Liked that.