Someone gave me a book to review. Specifically, Alisha Raj from Reviews, Rants, & Revelry reached out with an offer to supply me with a book from the publisher Penguin Random House. Seriously, I’m kinda a big deal now.
Well, not really, but I do appreciate being offered a copy of Invasion of the Space Invaders to write a review about this reprint of what’s now a pretty rare book.
Invasion of the Space Invaders is a confused book from an author who disowned it, which in itself makes it pretty interesting. After all, why would an author (or anyone for that matter) disown their works? My take on that little factoid is that Martin Amis was at odds with himself about how he feels about gaming as an activity, and that’s evident in the structure of the book itself.
It’s divided into multiple, disparate sections, each of which could easily be a solitary article. Invasion of the Space Invaders strikes me more as a collection of individual works packaged together.
Some Things Haven’t Changed
This may come as a shock, but videogame addiction isn’t a new concern, and anyone from the era this book harks from can likely attest to that fact. Invasion of the Space Invaders begins with a message of warning: videogames are sweeping the world and taking over, and things are looking dire. Obviously, society hasn’t come crashing down (as far as I know), but that doesn’t stop the author from using anecdotes about a Japanese coin shortage, kids stealing money from their parents’ unemployment money and grandparents retirement funds to play in arcades, and laughable examples about hospitals treating exertion injuries from playing too many videogames.
What’s puzzling about Mr. Amis’ consolidated works, is that the author sounds to be a huge fan of videogames, while also looking at games and fans of the hobby with disdain. On one hand, he makes it a point to lament over gaming as a destructive hobby, and on the other hand speak volumes about his own predilection for games. Hell, he even went so far as to write over a dozen mini-reviews and guides to arcade games ranging from Asteroids and Donkey Kong, to Frogger and Lunar Lander. Furthermore, the tips he leaves for players are legitimate… They work. So he either really did his research, or he’s actually played each and every game he wrote about.
But enough railing on Mr. Amis’ flip-flopping about his hobby, because his book does more than just providing a glimpse into the viewpoint of a self-hating gamer, and onto the stuff that makes this interesting to read.
Probably the biggest eye-opener for me was the picture of an Atari engineer plotting the circuitry of an arcade unit by hand on a massive sheet of paper. The sheer scope of performing a task like that, all for an arcade cabinet. I know that games are infinitely more complicated than the likes of arcade games of that era, but at the very least, there are far more software tools at the disposal of developers now. It’s a testament to how far the games industry has come over the decades, and it’s weird to look back at what the world used to be like. Like looking through an old photo album, Invasion of the Space Invaders brought up feelings of nostalgia that I didn’t even know I had in me.
I was a young kid when gaming was starting to make its way into the global marketplace, but I still remember playing many of the games shown off in Mr. Amis’ book. The inclusion of images and photos showcase the era in full glory, with pictures of arcade-goers and cabinet art of the games themselves. It’s frankly kinda awesome to see all these snapshots of a bygone era tucked away.
Mr. Amis spends one much of the book echoing the concerns of the time, but he’s seemingly at odds with himself, trying to reconcile the good of videogames with the bad; the pros and the cons. I suppose there’s a sense of honesty in that, because I imagine that most adults at the time would want to distance themselves as much as possible from what was largely seen as an activity for kids.
Of course, it’s a little humorous to see the author attempting to poke holes in the predictions of Paul Trachtman, who gave a premise for what would eventually be games like Cities Skylines, Age of Empires, and Civilization. Instead of acknowledging the possibilities, he mocks the idea by spouting dull names the games would have, and lamenting that the games would sport campy mechanics. I can’t even take credit for noticing this, as previous reviewers of this book have already made the connection.
Still, part of what makes a time capsule interesting, is that sometimes you get a glimpse into the thoughts and predictions of those of the time. Martin went beyond speaking solely about the arcades, and delved into the home consoles and handhelds of the time. Anyone who remembers the times will also remember how limited those experiences were compared to those in the arcades, and Martin didn’t miss a beat driving this point home. Still, it isn’t like he’s wrong, and he definitely seemed to enjoy having access to even an inferior version of his favored games in the comfort of his home. Further along you get a taste of some of the more obscure games at the time, such as text-based games which are written in lines of code, and even a glimpse into what is now the present, where Amis pontificates about games competitions.
How far we’ve come!
Invasion of the Space Invaders is an odd duck of a book. It’s a great view of what gaming used to be, long ago, and it’s rather interesting to compare those days to the current times. Similarly, it’s neat to look at what someone thought gaming was that long ago, and see what it has turned into today. The book itself (at least the print I received), is a well-bound, about the size of a strategy guide (quite appropriately), and is filled with excellent photos and images to thumb through when you get your fill of Mr. Amis’ verbose lamentations over gaming. In a way, reading it feels less like reading an examination of games of the ’70s and ’80s, and more of an aged op-ed. Yet somehow, it’s much less infuriating to read than many of the hot-takes of cunning journalists these days.
It’s cool to thumb through the pages, looking at days long gone. It’s true that some of those days occurred long before I existed, but I’ve had my fair share of arcade journeys and hours on consoles like the Atari 2600. Reading this book dredges up those latent memories, and has spurred me to look into some of the history of the hobby itself.
I don’t mean it as a slight, but this is something that would be perfect at home on the coffee table of a gamer with rose-colored glasses tuned for the days of gaming yore. Something to pick up to peek through on the odd occasion, or show to folks that stop by. Maybe even just show it to those dang young’uns who are playing the Fortnite to make them appreciate the original microtransactions: arcade games fueled by piles of quarters.
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