After reading Jonathan Hennessey’s excellent graphic novel biography of Alexander Hamilton, I was excited to read The Comic Book Story Of Video Games: The Incredible History Of The Electronic Gaming Revolution. Great video games are the combination of good storytelling and compelling visuals, so a graphic novel is the perfect medium for telling this story. That’s not to say that covering a topic like this seems easier to capture visually—but more on that later.
Despite the relatively short existence of video games, this is a huge story to tell. Once again, I am impressed with Hennessey’s ability to distill a huge topic, full of requisite technical knowledge, plus multiple countries and people with shifting loyalties, and make it into a fast-paced, fun read. As with his Hamilton biography, the words sometimes threaten to overwhelm the pictures, and turn this into an “illustrated history of” instead of a “comic book story of.” But the powerful, playful visuals of Jack McGowan deftly avoid being overshadowed. Instead they infuse the words with irony, tongue-in-cheek humor, and—best of all—winks to video game nerds. Historical figures are pictured alongside video game characters they created or inspired, panels pixilate, Sonic the Hedgehog lends his voice to the telling of Sega’s story, and the whole thing takes on a magical, manic feel. All this got me thinking, despite video games being a visual medium, a comic book history of video games has a lot of work to do in order to be as much fun as actually playing a video game. Well, Hennessey and McGowen pulled it off. This book is fun to read and really interesting.
Who would have thought that the development of video games is so closely tied to world events? Hennessey takes us all the way back to the middle of the 1800’s, when steam power ruled. He spends a very sizable portion of the book tracing the development of technology (computers and television especially), as well as politics, Hollywood, and economics. This book could be used in schools as part of an economics, technology, or history curriculum, piquing the curiosity of those students who only want to get home so they can play X-Box. Those inventers and entrepreneurs who brought video games to the fore—and those tech-innovators who came before them—were the hackers, the mavericks, and the free-thinkers. These are necessary role-models for the 21st century, flawed though they were/are. If this book can introduce more people to them, then we will benefit.
If you like video games (even just as little bit), or if you like history (even just a little bit), there is a good chance you will be entertained, and maybe even inspired by The Comic Book Story of Video Games.