Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Video Games

Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Video GamesOrder this bookStory: In the 1960s, a government contractor working with computer display systems figured out how to get a game of video tennis going on a television monitor. But that game, which would later be reproduced by an enterprising programmer named Nolan Bushnell at a young company called Atari, would give rise to one of the fastest-growing sectors of the entertainment industry. Companies such as Atari, Coleco, Mattel, Magnavox, and Bally would ride that wave into the first home video game console era. Fortunes were made and lost by gambling on licensed arcade and entertainment properties, and a flood of mediocre software brought the video game market to its knees. And then a relatively obscure Japanese company changed the rules forever. Originally planning to license its technology out to Atari, a legal misunderstanding convinced Nintendo to go it alone in an uncertain market that they would later dominate alongside Sega and Sony. This is the nuts-and-bolts story of the video game industry.

Review: A great, in-depth book about the history, the swells and ebbtides, the fortunes and failures, and the numerous litigious episodes of the video game industry is long overdue. And after reading Phoenix, I’m sad to say that the book I’ve been hoping to read is still overdue.

Don’t get me wrong. “Phoenix” is fascinating reading, and it does reveal quite a few things I didn’t know…but the book is written in such a dry “police reports” fashion, so utterly devoid of any character or humor, that it takes a while to get through. The history of the video game industry is littered with irony and a few moments which qualify as outright farce (like Atari’s E.T. video game). “Phoenix” sometimes treats the ironies and the tragedies with the even-handedness of a grocery shopping list.

And as much as I hate to criticize a book on technicalities, there are enough spelling and punctuation flubs that I get the impression that “Phoenix” never passed through the hands or eyes of an editor. Compared to J.C. Herz’s “Joystick Nation” – a book on the subject of video game history, approached from an entirely different angle, which has taken fire from readers and hobbyists for its eclectic vocabulary – Herman’s “Phoenix” is, in a few places, an exceedingly simplistic book. Somewhere between these two, and the two scant video game chapters of Bill Kurtz’s “Arcade Treasures”, lies a damned good video game book.

I just wish it’d hurry up and get here. I’d write it myself if I thought it would help.

Year: 1997 (first edition published in 1994)
Author: Leonard Herman
Publisher: Rolenta Press
Pages: 315 pages