Trigger Happy


New: Trigger Happy 2.0, a revised and edited selection of the best columns from Edge, is now available on Kindle. More details: Amazon US; Amazon UK; or search your local Amazon store.

Trigger Happy, originally published in 2000 with the subtitle “The Inner Life of Videogames”, is a book about the aesthetics of videogames: what they share with other artforms, and the ways in which they are unique. The extra final chapter from the 2004 US edition is posted here. I also write a monthly column of the same title in Edge magazine, and I presented a BBC TV documentary entitled Trigger Happy: The Invincible Rise of The Video Game (I did object that a rise could not be invincible, but in vain) in 2004.

Below you can read some features on videogames for the mainstream press. Also archived here: Working for the Man, my polemical F.R.O.G. conference paper against the “employment paradigm” in games.

10 March 2012

Psychotic flânerie and the history of Grand Theft Auto1

The fastest-selling cultural product in history was created by people you’ve probably never heard of. While this year’s Oscars honoured films in which the movie business sweetly congratulates itself on its own birth — The Artist, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo — the most rapidly dollar-hoovering entertainment release ever is not a film, still less an album; it’s a videogame. Continued →

  1. An edited version of this article appeared in the Guardian‘s Weekend magazine on March 10, 2012.

30 November 2009

Top 10 videogames of the decade

Everyone seems to be compiling lists of the best games of the decade,1 so here, with minimal special pleading or argumentation,2 is mine. A link is given if I have previously written about the game in question. Nota bene: this is not just some personal list of games that I happen to have liked during the noughties; this is The One True Objective Trigger Happy™-Endorsed List of the Ten Best Games of the Decade, and any different list is simply wrong, mmkay?3
Continued →

  1. Apart from Action Button, who are doing the 33 best games of all time. Their list is wrong, of course, but interestingly wrong.
  2. Except in footnotes.
  3. Especially if it has Bioshock on it. Jesus.

27 October 2008

Against the Employment Paradigm in Videogames

Videogames are often discussed under the concept of “play”, but this is not always how gamers themselves talk about their experience: they use instead vocabularies of desperate competition or violence. Take the very common expression of satisfaction after completing a game: “I beat the game.” What exactly does it mean to beat a game? You can’t have a meaningful contest against an inert digital artefact. From the game’s point of view, you did not beat it. On the contrary, you did exactly what the game wanted you to do, every step of the way. You didn’t play the game, you performed the operations it demanded of you, like an obedient employee. The game was a task of labour. From this perspective, playing a videogame looks as much like work as play.1 Continued →

  1. This is the paper I gave at the very awesome F.R.O.G. conference, Vienna 2008. It was subsequently published as a chapter in the book of conference proceedings, Edges of Gaming (Vienna, 2010). I also considered the alternative titles “I Got All the Fucking Work I Need“, and “Fuck You, I Won’t Do What You Tell Me“, but I wasn’t sure about the etiquette of swearing in the titles of papers for academic conferences.

30 November 2002

I hate retrogaming. It makes me sick. And it’s not because I’m some sniffy youth whose first gaming experience was Tekken Tag on PS2 and who sneers that old games have rubbish graphics. The first videogame I ever played was a tabletop Space Invaders in a cafe at some point in the late 1970s. So what’s my problem?
It’s several problems, actually. First, the actual word “retrogaming”. What’s that about? I can read a novel by Joseph Conrad published 100 years ago, or a Len Deighton thriller from the 1980s, and I won’t be accused of “retroreading”. I’m not “retrolistening” if I stick on some Bach or Frank Sinatra or Van Halen. Watching classic Cary Grant films from the 1940s, or The Seventh Seal, or The Empire Strikes Back, is not termed “retroviewing”.
Continued →

15 June 2001

Biography of a tomb raider

It is Valentine’s day, 1968. In a hospital in Wimbledon, London, a baby daughter is born to Lord and Lady Henshingly-Croft. The girl has a drawerful of silver spoons in her little mouth. Between the ages of three and 11, she is privately tutored at home; she then attends Wimbledon High School for Girls and Gordonstoun. At the latter, she discovers a passion for rock-climbing in the mountains of Scotland. (She also takes up shooting, but is soon banned for showing “too keen an interest”.) By the time she is 18, everyone can see she has a wild streak, but her parents believe that she can be thoroughly civilised – and eventually married off to the Earl of Farringdon – after three years at a Swiss finishing school.

While in Switzerland, however, the young woman takes to extreme skiing, and spends a holiday pursuing the sport in the Himalayas. On the return journey, her plane crashes deep in the mountains, and she is the only passenger left alive. Somehow she manages to survive for two weeks until she staggers into a mountain village. By this time, the course of her life has changed. She has learned that she only feels truly alive when travelling alone. Lara Croft has decided to become an adventuress. Continued →

8 December 1999

Saturday, 3pm: I have been booked into a luxury hotel in a secret central-London location for the weekend. My mission: to play Square’s epic new PlayStation extravaganza Final Fantasy VIII, until I drop. My only sustenance will be a fully stocked minibar and infinite quantities of room service. Laughing, I plug in the console and turn it on.

3.05pm The game’s introductory sequence is a beautiful pre-rendered film of swirling feathers and an apocalyptic swordfight. My character, Squall, appears to be a student in some training college for magical mercenaries. Squall? I rename him Steve, which has a faintly ridiculous effect on proceedings.

4.30pm Together with my female tutor, who I feel is being somewhat flirtatious, I have defeated two giant blue bees.

5pm I eat a Kit-Kat from the minibar, knowing that it will cost Sony £3.25. I savour its cheap faux-chocolatiness, guiltily. Continued →