Book Review: Replay: The History Of Video Games by Tristan Donovan

Replay By Tristan Donovan cover
Replay By Tristan Donovan cover

I can honestly say that The new book Replay by Tristan Donovan is the best book about the video game history ever published.   Donovan’s book unseats The First Quarter by Steven L. Kent (the previous title holder) by taking a broader, world-wide approach to the subject. Donovan was  inspired by Kent’s book, but was dissatisfied by it’s focus on the USA, so he set out to write his own.

Donovan succeeds by focusing mostly on games, game design, and technical advances instead of the legal and hardware wars between manufacturers.  The text flows from one subject to another, while covering topics that have not seen much ink in earlier books (i.e 70’s computer games and the UK games scene).   What emerges is more like a story about continuum of game design and development than a business school case study. Bravo!  As a game developer, it is exactly what I was hoping for.

At 512 pages, the book is just about the right length for the topic, but still feels short because it is such an interesting and entertaining read. Writing a history book about video games is not for the faint of heart.   There are so many “experts” out in the wilds of the internet that an author runs the risk of stepping on any number of land mines scattered by people who hold secret information “up their sleeves”.  Donovan combats this by using mostly first-hand material from new interviews and sources (at least they appear to be new as I have never read many of the quotes before).

Replay will not always be the best game about video game history ever written.  Just like Kent’s book stood high above the crowd more than decade ago but has now been overtaken, this book will probably be surpassed 10 years on by another author with an even broader perspective armed with even more insight brought on by the passage of time.  However, at this historic moment, Replay is  required reading for anyone with even the slightest interest in  the history of video games, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

-Steve Fulton (8bitsteve)

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