I love a good history book when the history being covered involves the video game industry. That's why when I was offered a review copy of All Your Base Are Belong To Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture written by one Harold Goldberg, I jumped at the chance to read it. Then I started on it and was struck by how dry and overwritten it was. Sadly, I didn't find it to be a compelling read and didn't have much to say about it on PTB. Fortunately, my girlfriend Nicole found it on my table and realized it was perfect for her website in which she holds snarky court on pretentious and overwritten books, so I passed it on to her to tear apart at Books Without Pity. She finished the long slog through the book recently and has composed her thoughts on it.
Goldberg’s chapters follow in a mostly chronological order, beginning with the Magnavox Odyssey and ending with the Wii, as well as a “bonus” chapter with a look towards what the future might bring. All the major players are featured: Pong, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Grand Theft Auto, The Sims, et cetera. His prologue, if you will, relates his personal experience with “Tennis for Two” at a recreation exposition in the place of its birth, Brookhaven National Laboratory. Towards this section’s end, however, it begins to suffer something that spreads and infects the rest of this book – the disease of extraneous detail. All Your Base, in its paperback format, appears rather lightweight, clocking in at slightly over 300 pages. Generally, this is something that I could read through quickly. However, this took me a week to slog through, and that is embarrassing for me to admit.
To give you an example of the author’s detail-itis: in his chapter “A Space Odyssey,” which tells the story of the Magnavox console, he gives some backstory on Ralph Baer, who created it. Baer invented things when he was younger, and here are a few examples. He was an engineer during World War II. Alright, these two things might have had an impact on Baer’s later years with regards to video games. However, Goldberg also tells us other things that Baer did during the war, such as laying and removing mines, and teaching military strategy, which detract from his main point. If this were an essay submitted to a teacher, there would be red ink striking several sentences from that page, making it rain more blood than a Mortal Kombat fatality.
Which brings me to my next criticism – the popular culture allusions. I know this is a book about video games. Therefore, allusions to video game characters and plots is likely. However, he overuses them, and most of them are downright terrible. “Ran for the hills like Sonic the Hedgehog on speed.” “Like those aliens being shot as they fell from the night sky in Space Invaders.”
Somehow I don't think I missed anything by skipping All Your Base. It's a shame, too, as the general subject matter interests me, but from the way Nicole tells it, the information is buried beneath stale comparisons and extraneous information. There's even some strange allusions in unexpected places such as a digression about the homosexual subtext between Ratchet and Clank dropped into the middle of a chapter about BioShock of all things. Oh well; can't win 'em all. Nicole and I had fun coming up with our own overdone analogies. See how many you can spot in her takedown of the book.