Book Review: Gamelife by Michael Clune

Mar 27, 2017

You have been awakened.

Floppy disk inserted, computer turned on, a whirring, and then this sentence, followed by a blinking cursor. So begins Suspended, the first computer game to obsess seven-year-old Michael, to worm into his head and change his sense of reality. Thirty years later he will write: “Computer games have taught me the things you can’t learn from people.”

Gamelife is the memoir of a childhood transformed by technology. Afternoons spent gazing at pixelated maps and mazes train Michael’s eyes for the uncanny side of 1980s suburban Illinois. A game about pirates yields clues to the drama of cafeteria politics and locker-room hazing. And in the year of his parents’ divorce, a spaceflight simulator opens a hole in reality.

In telling the story of his youth through seven computer games, Michael W. Clune captures the part of childhood we live alone.

I’m always intrigued about what people have to say about video games. What I find even more intriguing is how video games impact people’s lives. More often than not, most video game memoirs (that I have read) involve the awkward geek entering into the beginning of the video game era. They find themselves or find a way out of themselves with this exciting new piece of technology by playing their way through Wolfenstein, Doom, Ultima, Super Mario Bros., etc., etc.

Michael Clune’s Gamelife is no exception to this template. What unique offerings he has are in the form of metaphors and a somewhat serious video game addiction. At times, it feels like Clune’s metaphors and observations are a bit of a stretch. It’s almost like he tries to find meaning in something that doesn’t have any meaning at all (i.e. ). Other times, he’s awfully poetic.

There were points where I assumed the role of his mother. I, too, worried about Clune’s empty social life. But I also knew too well the unreasonably cruel ways that kids operated.

Okay, I didn’t really. I had a good group of friends that I grew up with. However, I never felt as inside of the group as I thought I should be. Like Michael, I saw my friends faces close off mid-laugh and their eyes suddenly go distant the moment I opened my mouth.

I, also like Michael, retreated into the world of video games but of the much milder sort. My addiction was Runescape and Club Penguin. I’d build endless camp fires, bake bread, and pretend to be a penguin spy. I wasn’t like Clune’s classmate Evan, who was true to himself no matter what character appeared on his screen. Even when I did name a character after myself, I always played as the person who I used to be.

It was observations like these, the ones where I found myself in them, that made me really appreciate this book. However there was something about Clune’s style of narration that didn’t jive with me. Perhaps, I disliked Clune’s portrayal of himself. There was no redemption moment for Clune and no real moments of growth.

Would I recommend this to someone? Yeah, I think it has value. The main reason why I didn’t enjoy this as much as I could have is probably a matter of preference.

Category: Books
Tags: #book review