Phoenix IV : The History Of The Video Game Industry by Leonard Herman is the most well researched, historically accurate chronicle of the video game industry that you will ever find. Almost completely devoid of conjecture, hyperbole, and opinion, the books attempts (and succeeds) to posit an impartial, fact-based account of the inventions, hardware cycles, and business of video games from their early inception until very recent times.
In other words, “Fake News” this is not.
Herman chronicles the history of video games in straight-forward manner. The language is simple and to the point. There are few (if any) quotes from industry individuals, almost no metaphors, overall themes or points to be made, other than the exacting facts at hand. It’s an exhaustive, footnoted timeline of video game hardware releases from the commercial perspective with a viewpoint (mostly) from the USA looking out. It includes dates, sales numbers, and the key games (mostly first party releases to support console cycles) to help tell the story of the ever evolving and changing industry. Paralleling their importance, arcade video games are covered too, but mostly to explain the early years of game development, with smattering of highlights into the 90’s. The book also manages to find the right cadence and reverence and discussing the history of video game magazines, something I’ve never seen before in a tome of this type. Herman’s unique understanding of how the printed medium once drove the digital is a unique feature of his massive chronicle.
The only “fault” I can find is with what is not included. Herman says at the outset that his book does not cover “computer games”, because they are played on machines that are not dedicated to video games, but can play other software as well. It is understandable that Herman tried to limit the score of the book. At already 828 pages, the book is a beast of knowledge and information. However, his argument about “machines that are dedicated to games” doesn’t make sense for any game console since the 360/Wii/PS3 era, since those consoles include all sorts of functions beyond playing games (i.e Netflix, movie watching, web browsing, etc.)
I think in future volumes he is going to to find a way to cover computers, web games, mobile games, etc. because they have now become part of the whole story of video games. For people of my age, (and Herman’s), it’s okay that these things are left out. Since we have seen, pretty much, the whole of the video games industry from it’s inception, we can put the pieces together to understand the place of video games in that history and how they are carved out from the “game industry” as whole. However, if this book is to become the true, de-facto “history of the “video game” industry , then it will do a disservice to younger generations who do not understand the events and nuances in context. This would mean, in upcoming volumes, that Herman would have to tackle computers, the web, and mobile in some perfunctory manner.
Still, this is not a complaint more than it is a rallying-cry for this book to be recognized as what it is: the best book on video game history of it’s kind. It’s also a plea to take to the next level, because what Herman has here is the basis for an unimpeachable, historic record of the world’s last great entertainment medium. He’s on the cusp of becoming the grand-master of video game history, he just needs a bit of push to the next level.
The books is well-worth the price, and should be on the shelf of any self-respecting video game fanatic.