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Top 5 Films, Books & Science about Games and Gaming

June 27, 2012

I do get asked about what people should do if they are interested into getting into developing games. Other than learning to code (that way you can bring your own ideas to life) playing games is key. Games are not a medium that can be adequately experienced by watching others play. All that said, next is to have a wide range of cultural inputs; so not just from games from from all the arts and media. Not just fiction but non-fiction such as science too. It all blends! So I thought I’d explore my top other forms of media/project that intersect with games and gaming culture. As with my Cthulhu/Lovecraft list, this is a personal one, so feel free to suggesting things, but don’t be offended it I don’t add them to the list. Also, this is a work in progress – I plan to add to it.

Preamble done, lets get going!


  • War Games – The classic 80s film about video games that was both fascinated with computers and of scared of them.  This was when home PC very very new and there was a cold war paranoia going on.
  • The Last Starfighter – Another 80s classic.  Worth seeing.  SPOILER ALERT, it follows the same sort of plot idea as Ender’s Game (see below) whereby the game is just training for real combat.  Not a million miles from where we are now. Still, the space-ship design was cool.
  • Grandma’s Boy – As far as I’m aware, this is the only fiction film about games development….and they get those bits all wrong.  Totally.  Game development is in reality nothing as depicted. It’s about a game tester who is a bit of a slacker but has ideas of making it big.  However it is fun, so I’d recommend it. (Though us game designers are nothing like the one depicted in the film.  Honest.)
  • The Game – A great film by David Fincher about a man who starts playing an ARG that gets more and more real.  It has that sense of the deep immersion into the game that some games can make you feel – you know what I mean, when you start to dream about the game…
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The Last Starfighter (Still from the film showing the video game)

Books (Fiction)

  • The Player of Games – By the Scottish sci-fi writer Iain M.Banks. I am a huge fan of his works.  This, IMHO, is the best of his ‘Culture’ series and is well worth reading.  It’s about a world where the position in society is given by your performance at a vast and complex game.  Read it.  Yes, now.  Off you go…
  • Ender’s Game – A sci-fi book about games as preparation for war and about Ender, who excels at them.  This is a great book, though personally as the series went on, I felt the books got worse.  Also the author, Orson Scott Card, sounds like an unpleasant guy being a bit of a moaner to say the least.  There is a film version (which I’ve not seen) and there was a game being made, but it sadly seems no longer.
  • Halting State – A book about MMOs and the worlds around them by Charlie Stross (who is also on my other list).  I can’t say too much as I’d spoil it, except to say it starts with a robbery in a virtual world.  Well worth it.
  • Reamde – By Neal Stephenson – who also wrote the amazing Cryptonomicon.  I’m still reading this at the moment, but so far it’s amazing…so I wanted to include it. (Hey, it’s my list!)
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  • Conway’s Game of Life – An ALife game zero-player game where all the that is set is the intial state.  From the simple rules and inital state amazing things can (and do)  appear.  Is the player the god-like being who sets the initial state or the cells within destined to be played by the rules? Or is there truly no player? Discuss.
  • Stanford Prison Experiment – The famous experiment by Philip Zimbardo into obedience and authority.  While no ostensibly a game, it is clearly about role-playing and how the rules of the game are changed/devised  by the players/participants.
  • Dawkins’s Biomorphs – A simple idea; use the power of evolution to generate aesthetically pleasing shapes. In each generation you pick the most pleasing shape and the rest are discarded. Thus each round the shapes – or biomorphs – evolve to be ever more pleasing shapes for you.
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Not in the list, but I wanted to mention…

  • Mazes & Monsters – the 1982 scare-story movie about the paper RPG of Dungeons and Dragons. Fun to watch for a laugh, but little else.
  • Indie Game: The Movie – A fun looking documentary I’ve not seen yet but hear good things about.
  • Futurama – Chocked full of references to games and gaming from guest appearances by Gary Gygax (creator of D&D) onwards..  It is such an amazing show.
  • I also want to mention William Gibson, who was inspired by 8bit games for his work and his writing and plots have many gamic qualities.
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