Review: Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood

Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded HollywoodGeneration Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood by Jamie Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has followed my book reviews on Good Reads or my blog knows that I have read quite a bit of video game history. Whether it’s a history of video games starting with the miltiary and university campuses, a book like A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games or the Boss Fight Books series – I’ve gone through quite a bit of video game history. So when this one started off with Atari and the ET game I was a little wary. By this point anyone my age or older with any bit of knowledge of video game history knows of the crash in the 80s and how it was (at least partially) caused by Atari’s horrible ET game. The Indiana Jones game would have been news to me if I hadn’t seen a long Ars Technica article about it last year. So a slightly boring start for me.

But then the book swiveled away to a part of video game history that I was just a little too young and a little too poor to have known about. (Too young for Night Trap and too poor for Sega CD) The chapter on the Super Mario Brothers movie was great and I also recommend listening to the SMB movie How Did this Get Made podcast episode. Wen they got to the FMV craze, I remembered playing some demos of those games when I got a CD-ROM drive kit back before computers came with CD-ROMs or sound cards. From there it moved on to Tomb Raider, GTA, and more modern titles. Each way it showed how the movie and video game industries were engaged in a tango in which the role of lead partner kept changing.

Eventually the book’s thesis turns out to be that Avatar is the ultimate, final merging of these two mediums. In the same chapter it mentions how Andy Serkis and his mocap (or apparently nowadays it’s called motion performance) work has changed Hollywood. Also, for a few decades now, the AAA video games have been making WAAAAY more money than the Hollywood blockbusters.

It’s a great book that shows a different part of video game history than all the other books I’ve come across. I appreciate it for that. I know books can’t be infinitely long, but I was surprised he (or she…. can’t tell just by name) didn’t really spend time exploring video cut scenes like in Command and Conquer considering how important those were at the time. Perhaps because it didn’t contribute to the ultimate thesis? Or was a dead end since most cuts cenes are now done “in engine”. Also a bummer this was written before The Mandalorian provided what I think is the true apotheosis of the video game/Hollywood merger. I also thought it would have been an interesting note in the epilogue about how AAA games may be merging with Hollywood, there continues to be an indie scene with immensely popular games with SNES graphics (like Stardew Valley).

Highly recommend if you’re into video game histories.

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