REVIEW: The History of Video Games (2021)

A book by Charlie Fish

Cover via Goodreads

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Going into this book, I was honestly skeptical that a 200 page book was sufficient enough to cover a topic as dense as “The History of Video Games” without glossing over large swaths of time, or focusing on things that weren’t as important as stated. The recent Netflix show “High Score” comes to mind with what it focused on – while important, not everything presented was actually warranting a full episode to cover, and LOTS of stuff was left out. That isn’t an issue with The History of Videogames by Charlie Fish, the book is jam-packed with plenty of information, and does a fine job as any other history book at presenting a general topic.

I quite enjoyed that the book didn’t just focus on the tried-and-true pop-culture history of games, it successfully goes over the full origin of games, going back to huge machines that played simple games such as tic-tac-toe using lightbulbs as a graphic interface dating all the way back to post-war America. This part of the lineage is almost NEVER discussed, usually people start with 1959s Spacewar! as “the first videogame” which is not correct in many ways. I appreciate the research that Fish put into this, and enjoyed his unique experience as a gamer based in the UK, as that scene never really gets elaborated on, seeing that its fairly divergent than either the Japanese or American scenes.

Perhaps my main quibble with the book was the formatting – about one-quarter of the book is the “history of videogames” all in one section, then it goes to a section on profiles of important people in the field, then a section on companies, social issues, a section on top ten lists (such as bestselling games) and more. I think the book could benefit form being reshuffled to being broken up a bit more and having those latter sections intertwined into the main section, as it feels a tad like a series of blog posts that have been collected as-is. What is here works well nonetheless, and this isn’t a huge deal-breaker. the book is still organized well, and contains pictures and screenshots to help illustrate certain points.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a fairly concise history of videogames, I’ve read a lot of similar books in the past (especially when I briefly worked for a gaming website), but honestly this is probably one of the best I’ve come across.