YAC HIT LIST: The Gamer List

By Ned VizziniDecember 8, 2012

YAC HIT LIST: The Gamer List

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

I AM NOT A GAMER. I don't have any video games on my computer, in my house, or on my phone, except for the version of mahjong that ships with Windows 7, which I play in dark moments on plane trips. 

But I wish I were a gamer. Because I remember how good it was.

 In 1989, when Nintendo was new, only my upstairs neighbor Brock had it. He was an older kid, pretty unpleasant; he liked to toss his hamster through his laundry basketball hoop for fun and once destroyed this amethyst geode I had when he pushed me into a bookshelf. 

But I played Nintendo with Brock whenever I could. Any unpleasantness was worth it for Super Mario Brothers. My eight-year-old brain was absolutely sure that it was as much of a beautiful encapsulation of the human condition as the Narnia books or The Phantom Toolbooth. 

I stopped playing games in high school, when Doom became the rage. I wasn't interested in 3D real-time environments where enemies tried to kill me -- that was what high school already was. 

 So my game experience involves a very specific, classic period that was immortalized by the Scott Pilgrim movie. (And, Disney hopes, by Wreck-It Ralph.) Call it the sub-20-bit period. Here's what it taught me:

1. A creative direction not to take.

I never just played video games. I always designed them. On graph paper. With mechanical pencils. I finished Super Mario and tried to invent my own game like that, Desert Jumper. (It wasn't terribly original.) What I discovered was that in order to design a video game, I had to actually learn how to program a computer, and that was a lot more difficult than writing a story. The technical barriers of game creation turned me toward writing.

2. The thrill of victory.

 You never win watching television. I used to watch a lot of it -- all the Saturday morning cartoons, from 5:30am to Pee-Wee's Playhouse -- and when I finished, I always had a weird sick feeling, like I was wasting my life, plus dizziness. But if I played hours and hours of a video game and won, I felt like an adult.

3. The importance of a princess.

 It was nuts how many games involved a princess. Not just Mario, but Zelda, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon... in the more modern games it was a "girlfriend" instead of a "princess." Even if you saved the world, it didn't matter if you didn't find love. I remembered that when I started writing.

 The first generation of gamers are now making movies, writing for television, and writing books. I'm one of them; my young adult novel The Other Normals is about a kid in summer camp who falls into a fantasy world based on his favorite game.  

Here are my favorite books about gaming for young adults and those who used to be them.


  • Interstellar Pig by William Sleator (YA)

  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (YA)

  • Extra Lives by Tom Bissel (non-fiction)

  • Glory Season by David Brin (SF)

  • Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World by David Sheff (non-fiction)

  • Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf (non-fiction)

  • Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It by David M Ewalt (May 2013) (non-fiction)



LARB Contributor

Ned Vizzini is the author of It's Kind of a Funny Story, Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah.... He has written for The New York Times, Salon, and Season 2 of MTV's Teen Wolf. His work has been translated into seven languages. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the forthcoming fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His newest novel is The Other Normals.


LARB Staff Recommendations

Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?

LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!