I like books. Felt spectacular to sell one, even if it was three or four years ago. That after another couple years of sewing together the Frankenstein monster. Then it was out, ravaging the countryside, harrying the peasantry. These days, I can't stomach to look at parts of Game Addiction. My co-author's sections – child development, brain plasticity, psychological hardiness – I love those. My sections on immersion and games culture? I can but meh.
Reading Stephen King's On Writing was the turning point, though a long time in coming. All through writing Game Addiction, I never cared about nice (or even palatable) language. I cared about gaming, then occasionally riding my word processor like a bucking porcelain pony. I dreamed that finishing it – after my last wipe and flush – I'd be off writing, kick the habit.
Years went by. I taught at DigiPen, a door largely opened by the book I couldn't stand. Even hammered out a novel-length derelict of fiction. The spine of King's book winked at me, once or twice. Still didn't pick it up. And then, for no discernible reason, I needed to be better. For nobody but me. King's autobiography/handbook was right there, and I slopped it up in one sitting. On Writing has been special to me, since then. I associate it with the decision to care.
Outside that, I'm skeptical of books. I'm never quite sure how useful they are, for the mysterious art of putting words in order. As a mad professor, who regularly curses artistically-inclined students with reading on comics, art, design, even reading itself, I may have given this unhealthy levels of thought. Mostly because, just as often, it's action that teaches. Whether they're Artists or Musicians, Designers or Programmers, DigiPen students or Real Live Devs, there's a time to stop reading and just goddamned finish a thing. Or fail spectacularly and repeatedly until you can finish a thing. It's why the old writer's axiom has two parts:
Read a lot. Write a lot.Is one the more important for the procedural pudding? And if there's a place for books, movies, even games, in teaching games, then is there canon? Are some worth requiring?
So, good time for partial disclosure. Here's a handful of nonfiction I really like:
Introduction to the art and science of design: Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Paraglyph, $16.15 on Amazon
Textual immersion: J.R.R. Tolkien's On Faerie Stories, Del Ray, $7.99 on Amazon
Relationship of text to image: Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, William Morrow, $15.63 paperback on Amazon
User Interface: Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think , New Riders, $22 on Amazon
The brain's processing of text: Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought, Viking, $11.56 paperback on Amazon
Writing (big surprise): Stephen King's On Writing, Scribner, $10.88 paperback (or 2 bucks at Goodwill, common book)
Physiology of vision, from the eye to the brain: Anne Marie Barry's Perception Theory, in Handbook of Visual Communication
Relationship between mediums: Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage, $7.68 paperback on Amazon
Characterization: Constantin Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares, $16.64 paperback on Amazon
Academic sweep of meaning and process: Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games , MIT Press, $17.86 on Amazon
Games culture: Jim Rossignol's This Gaming Life $19.37 paperback on Amazon
But these aren't, generally, the kinds of books the axiom refers to. I've always interpreted Read a lot. Write a lot. as more saying that if you want to write Westerns, then read Westerns. Know your genre. Crime drama? Try Garth Ennis and Elmore Leonard. Horror? Stephen King, or maybe some of Neil Gaiman's youth fiction. In cinema, George Lucas got a lot from Akira Kurosawa, and in Michael Bay we see the clear influence of full frontal lobotomy. This last GDC, we heard CliffyB cite the Legend of Zelda, and John Romero Pac-Man.
But are those the most influential? The most useful? It's a fair question, with dozens of professors and devs hawking textbooks to games colleges. Students have got every right to challenge their texts. I've got a few quippy answers ready for just such an occasion, and suspicions on Useful Knowledge, but the truth is I really don't know if these books help them to do games better.
If required gaming, viewing, and reading are all on the table (along with their fiction and nonfiction variants), is it fair to ask about required living? Philip K. Dick, in his How to Build a Universe that Doesn'tFall Apart Two Days Later, made the claim that writers created rough facsimiles of a truer reality. Base your works on older works, and you're making copies of copies. The original picture degrades, until all substance is derivative. If some of our artistic doings – our writing, filming, and developing – gets based off life, is that more the ideal?
Fuck if I know. But I am curious.