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DID YOU READ

Author Tom Bissell Details His “Extra Lives”

Author Tom Bissell Details His “Extra Lives” (photo)

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Even the most sophisticated, verbally gifted gamer can find it daunting to explain the occasionally obsessive love affair with pushing buttons to the curious or skeptical. Parallels to the pleasures of other mediums can hard to draw, and the sticky preconception of what games are and who plays them don’t help either. While there have been books that cover the video game medium as a business or an entertainment phenomenon, not many have tackled the unique creativity and symbiosis that binds player, creation and creator together. “Extra Lives” attempts to do that.

The book, by Portland author Tom Bissell, looks at several major video game releases over the last few years — “Fallout 3”, the “Mass Effect” games, “Left 4 Dead” and “GTA IV,” among others — and talks about what makes them work as cultural artifacts. In his non-gaming life, Bissell’s written three acclaimed novels that have earned him the Rome Prize and, more recently, a Guggenheim Fellowship. He also teaches fiction writing at Portland State University.

But “Extra Lives” isn’t some dispassionate intellectual treatise. Bissell channels his own subjective experiences with each game into interviews and interpretations that form a larger conversation about how the medium understands itself. Here, Bissell talks about the medieval parallels to how video games get perceived today, what the acclaimed PS3 thriller “Heavy Rain” got right and why his girlfriend doesn’t need to read his book.

I’ll start off with a personal question: Did you write “Extra Lives” for your girlfriend? It just seems like the kind of book you hand somebody to so they can understand something they find impenetrable. (And I mean that as no slight on your significant other…)

That’s funny. I didn’t, because my girlfriend actually plays games with me and thinks highly of the medium’s potential. But I suppose I did write it for some theoretical girlfriend, or parent, or sibling, who wonders why on earth any self-respecting adult would want to play video games.

06042010_extralives.jpgYour jacket copy makes it seem like you treated your gaming as a dirty little secret. How accurate was that?

Meh. Not very. I mean, somewhat accurate. Only in about 2007 or so did it become clear to me that games could stand proudly beside other storytelling mediums, and that’s when I became more, shall we say, evangelistic in my position. Prior to that, I don’t know how enthusiastically I would have admitted that I game.

In “Extra Lives,” you’re writing about some of the most high-profile games in the last five years or so. How’d you get the access to these developers like Peter Molyneux and Clint Hocking?

My first piece about the industry was for the New Yorker — a name that obviously opens some PR doors for you. In writing that piece — which was about Cliff Bleszinski and Epic Games — I got to be friends with a publicist who works for Microsoft, and he set me up with a lot of other companies when I mentioned wanting to write the book. He really understood what I wanted to do with it, and supported it, and helped me greatly. So Mark Van Lommel, this one’s for you.

What made you pick these specific titles, studios and creators?

To be brutally honest, every game I wrote about was a title I either felt an intense connection to or one that was created by a company who agreed to talk to me. A lot of companies didn’t. Ken Levine, for instance, said no, which was a drag, because I very much wanted to write more in the book about “BioShock.”

What other games did you want to write about, but couldn’t fit in?

06042010_mirrorsedge.jpgI also wanted to write about “Mirror’s Edge,” which is an absolutely fantastic game. I think so, at least — I know many who dislike it intensely, and that was part of what I wanted to address. But DICE never got back to me. I also had a chapter about “Shadow of the Colossus” in there at one point, but it was pretty inert. I found that game impossible to write about, for whatever reason. Probably due to the intensely individualized nature of the experience it offers you.

Do you feel like you could’ve written “Extra Lives” ten years ago, when maybe game-makers where less self-conscious about the craft of what they were doing?

I couldn’t have, no. The kinds of games I’m most interested in are narrative games. There are a few reasons for that, but I think the two most important are the fact that I’m a fiction writer, and take storytelling methodology very seriously, and that it’s simply easier to write about game experiences that are framed around some kind of narrative. Ten years ago, that would not have been possible. There simply wasn’t enough narrative.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…