Book Plunge: Pilgrim in the Microworld

What do I think of David Sudnow’s book from Boss Fight Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This could be the first game ever published about what it’s like playing a video game. In this case, the game is called Breakout.

At this, some younger gamers and readers could be thinking “I haven’t heard of that one. Is that about having to rescue someone trapped in an enemy prison and going behind enemy lines to break them out?”

Well, not exactly.

“Okay. So is it a fighting game where you fight one-on-one with an opponent like Street Fighter and have to break out your best moves?”

No. Not really.

Okay. So what is this game I’ve never heard of?

It’s this:

Yep. That’s Breakout.

Seriously? A guy wrote a book on this?

Yes. Yes, he did.

Sudnow’s experience starts at this place in ancient history known as an arcade. There was a time even when people had home consoles when people would meet at arcades and put quarters or tokens that cost a quarter apiece into a machine and used it to play a game. Many people would come and watch and take turns playing these games. Sometimes, people could play games alongside each other or against each other. You could sit inside models of cars for racing games or hold a gun for a shooting game.

Yours truly actually worked at one of these places once.

So Sudnow sees his son playing a game called Missile Command. He finds himself intrigued by the simplicity of it all and yet also by the dedication his son has to this. He thinks that normally we think of war as something awful, and we should, but Missile Command has a rather simple thesis to it that is much more innocent. You have a number of towns and you have to intercept missiles that are being fired at them to preserve those towns.

Sudnow gets this ancient machine that is even pre-Nintendo, (Which is even pre-such systems as the 64 or the Wii) called an Atari. He is told there is another game fans of Missile Command might like called Breakout. Sudnow starts playing this game and while his forte is playing the piano, before long, he finds himself intrigued by this game.

Sudnow wants to beat this game and studies it intensely. At what angle does the ball shoot out? How fast does it go? What changes from shot to shot? He looks at his TV from different angles and puts tape on the bottom in an effort to measure where the paddle goes to hit the ball. I hope Atari was near where he lived at the time because he even goes to Atari to ask them questions about how to play the game well. (Keep in mind kinds, we didn’t have the internet back then and even growing up, many of us had to read Nintendo Power or actually on some rare days, call the hotline for help and sometimes, we could even do this really archaic practice called writing a letter and putting it in the mail and waiting for a response.)

What this shows really is from the beginning, people have an amazing dedication to games. Think it’s just video games. Think again. Exhibit A? Sports. Even if we go back to Greek and Roman times, the Olympic games were a major deal. Cities could even get tax-exemptions for victorious contenders in the games. Today, we have multiple channels dedicated to games on cable as well as I’m sure many streaming services. How much is spent on sporting events every year and how much do we pay athletes for what they do?

Games matter.

Games seem to pull out in people a drive to succeed like nothing else does. Have people game and they want to be the best that they can. People invest so much work in something that often times won’t even benefit them financially.

We as Christians I fear have been too quick to condemn such. This is part of our reality. This is part of who we are as people. Why? What can we learn about ourselves from this? Can we take this drive and use it for the kingdom?

While the reading is fascinating, there is something absent. We don’t really see much of David’s social interactions while he is gaming. Where was his wife? Where was his son? I would have liked to have read about that. Did Paul think it was cool having a Dad who played video games? Did his friends think the same? Was his wife getting annoyed at her husband so intently studying Breakout and just saying “Could you instead clean the dishes sometime?!”

This is reading I did for my planned PhD research and the best walkaway I get from it is a reminder that this is something that really taps into who we are as people. We are a playing people. We don’t just play out of instinct. We purposely play.

Now it’s up to us to figure out why that is.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)