I gave this book five stars because although I stumbled a little at the beginning, the book is such a comprehensive snapshot of gaming today, whether you're invested heart and soul into it or whether you'd like to inhabit a different planet from it entirely. The thing is that video games are here to stay and not only that, video games are now heavily mainstream. The perception of an isolated niche enjoyment has and should be broken as well as its isolation as a straight white cis male-only club. I would also have rearranged the book somewhat, beginning with connections of people and video games and then pushing into how that affects us in reality... for better or for worse.
The book has great essays by the people I anticipated buying the book in the first place, such as Ibrahim discussing what it is like to be an Arab playing the ubiquitous "shoot Arabs in the face" games like Call of Duty ALL MILITARY SHOOTERS, Sarkeesian (and Cross) discussing two sides of harassment that women are subject to inside and outside the game, and Quinn's evolving creation of Depression Quest which led her to both fame and then intensive infamy. However, though I did love those essays, the book is definitely strongly bolstered by the other collaborators.
I never knew about Twine before this book, and the usage of it by people who are not tied to coding but rather than written word (and how even without realistic death animations and so forth, simplistic gaming is gaming in its storytelling) was an eye opening experience. Both Anthropy and Lopas use it as methods of queer and outside of the box storytelling, somewhat amusing if only for the fact that with its content so progressive, its gameplay was once the foundation of what this entire culture came out of. And though I would have put Johnston's essay on level design closer to the front of the book, his essay gives a deep insight to level design and architecture in video games, and how the limitations (not of graphics but of line of sight) forces certain things upon us. Not to mention how much thought needs to go into them, because a good level design tends to go unnoticed - it's what's around us, not in front of us - but a bad one everyone notices.
Narcisse's irritations and undercurrent of despair every time he is forced to choose a non-black hairstyle and pretend
because the game developers either never employ black hairstyles outside of humor or cannot recreate them due to lack of knowledge despite providing a thousand options for other race's styles speak to the frustration of how easy it is to be yourself, a white person, but somewhat impossible if you want to be just about anything else. I really liked his nuances about representation - it isn't just about getting a character that is black, it's about getting a variety of characters who are black with variations of that race explored or even mentioned. He wants everything and no, that is not asking too much.
On the flipside of viewing games just in the now, Knoblauch shares his decades-long observation of the apocalypse in video games, from the stressful reality and the certitude of utter destruction in Cold War times to a backdrop, occasionally even a pleasant one, to the typical sense of survival.
There's just so many essays that I want to pluck out individually and hand to friends with varying interests, whether that's history, queer culture, being a poc, making a game - but not only would that ruin the copy I have, I think the book is worth reading as a whole. Everyone could benefit from reading these topics tied into gaming, and definitely not just gamers. The book gives us a vivid snapshot of gaming now, a mainstream no longer a niche enjoyment, but an explosion of culture shaping pop that is screaming in agony as those of us who have always been there but unmentioned for so long drag it steadfast forward.