With villains, slacker geniuses, and underdogs, Game Boys plays out like a WB drama. It's One Tree Hill without all the sex. It defends the legitimacy of professional gaming, but also takes pot shots at the culture of boys just doing what comes easy to them. Argumentative, immature, lazy ... the list goes on. Sure, they make money, but most aren't going to college. They aren't saving the world. They're playing video games for a living.
If there's one thing competitive video gaming hasn't earned, it's large-scale legitimacy. If I had to pick a theme for Game Boys, a new book by accomplished features writer Michael Kane, this would be it. It's echoed in the plights of managers Jason Lake and Craig Levine, and trickles down to members of their Counter-Strike teams, CompLexity and Team 3D. It's talked about daily on gaming sites and magazines. For the mainstream execs, image and professionalism are more important than an overweight kid who can ace matches. It's in the problems of the players themselves. Kane tells of a player who regularly gets in fistfights, and of others who do drugs between matches. Of a crucial showdown, he points out: "CompLexity plays at eleven o'clock, which is an early call time for guys who generally sleep past noon." Kane embellishes the faults of these upstarts, but he also shows an understanding and appreciation of the serious time spent in the Counter-Strike community.
Where Kane excels and shows off his feature writing talent is in the descriptions of combat. He's a magician with words, conjuring up the same energy and drama usually only possible with visual accompaniment. While reading, I felt like I was watching matches between these true experts. But what is Counter-Strike? I for one knew little about this hugely popular tactical FPS based on a Half-Life mod. But through the rivalry between CompLexity and Team 3D, I came to understand the game and why it works on such a competitive level.
"In the opening round after the break, a pistol round, Warden comes out blazing. He pushes ahead of the pack and kills one, two, three. He's leaning in toward his monitor, feet bare and flat on the cement floor, eyes piercing. He kills a fourth. He's roaming, roaming, hunting. Blam! It's an ace. Warden took out all five."
Warden is a member of CompLexity, and this is his shining moment during a crucial face-off. Pulling back, Kane also sets the stage. He follows underdog Lake as he, out-of-pocket, tries to get his boys some sponsors. Then there's the braggart, Levine, who snatches up all the big deals. We learn about the players and their lives outside of gaming. Kane deftly weaves this all together to tell a story that is much bigger than the teams involved. He talks of female exploitation, of playing to the camera, of full-on posturing - all the things we see in other professional sports, so why not here?
While Kane pulls no punches, he isn't trying to sink this ship. His own feelings are visible in the descriptions of Lake and his family, the players, and the scene itself. I hope more non-gamers read this book, if only to realize that gaming is as compelling as poker and sports. They aren't just video games, they're another way to express the competitive nature of humanity. Hardcore gamers may not learn anything new from reading Game Boys, but they will find, as I did, that it's okay to just enjoy the book for what it is. Just understand that many of the gaming stereotypes are reinforced here, perhaps for dramatic effect or maybe some deeper reason I didn't understand. Some gamers may find it unnecessary, but to tell a story, a good one, you need drama.
This has it in spades.