Heather Chaplin & Aaron Ruby’s Smartbomb

Books Reviews
Heather Chaplin & Aaron Ruby’s Smartbomb

A look at the misfit geniuses behind today’s booming video-game industry

Hackers, geeks and dreamers fill the pages of SmartBomb, which engagingly recounts the history of video games from the earliest experiments to today’s multi-billion-dollar industry.

Each chapter covers an era or a guru, from Atari’s invasion of our homes and arcades to the rise of multiplayer online games. You’re introduced to one misfit groundbreaker after another—from reckless entrepreneurs like Atari’s Nolan Bushnell, to hypergeniuses like Sims’ Will Wright and John Carmack of Doom and Quake fame.

With so many stories to tell, Chaplin and Ruby settle for the overview, and they rarely delve into the experience of playing these games. It would’ve added to the book, if SmartBomb could’ve explained exactly how Counterstrike teams train for competitions, or how gamers reveled in the eye-popping colors and motion of those first Nintendo sidescrollers.

As for the geniuses, the book avoids the admittedly tough task of understanding or even humanizing them. Even so, it deftly explains how other people take advantage of them—from the suits who turned their obsession into a new branch of show business, to the gamers looking for community and accomplishment in their worlds, to the U.S. military, which is glad to hire these abstract-thinking, apolitical tech freaks. We may not understand where these “brains with legs” come from, but we do understand one thing: They sure rake in the green.

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