When I started this videogames blog, I didn't expect to be reviewing many books. For a start, there aren't many written away from the game guide or 'greatest games ever' market. However, there are now a few books that seek to explore the cultural significance of games, gamers and gaming. Jacked is one such book - an entertaining tale of the rise of one of gaming's largest and most controversial franchises, Grand Theft Auto.
One of the criticisms of video games from those that don't play them is 'why don't you read a book instead?'. Putting to one side the fact that - hey - it's
possible to enjoy doing both, this argument is born of a lack of understanding. It can better be rephrased as 'I don't know/understand this new thing society is doing, so I'm against it. Think of the children!'.
Not only is this the editorial line of the Daily Mail, it also is a theme that runs through Jacked. Not the voice of the author, David Kushner, but that of noughties gamers' bête noire, sometime lawyer, full-time moral crusader, Jack Thompson.
Jacked maintains a twin narrative throughout - one featuring Sam Houser, president of Take-Two subsidiary Rockstar Games and one featuring the anti videogame campaigner Thompson. From a European perspective, this is a strange approach - at an ocean's distance, Thompson seems a curious figure, tilting at videogame windmills in an increasingly sclerotic series of tirades against his twin gaming hates, sex and violence. Kushner however, promotes Thompson to a leading character in GTA's narrative, focussing on his efforts to stop GTA (and other Rockstar games) as a juxtaposition to Houser's efforts to elevate videogames to an adult art form.
Even from an American perspective, I'm not sure Thompson merits this promotion. GTA was/is such a worldwide publishing phenomenon, regular writs from a Floridian lawyer were never realistically anything more than an inconvenience to Take-Two, particularly given the protection afforded by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
Take Two's unrelated 'issues' with the SEC in the US were a far more resonant threat to its business than a green-ink-brigade Southern lawyer. Unfortunately for Kushner accounting irregularities make for unexciting reading. Fortunately for the reader, while they are covered descriptively, Kushner does not dwell on them overmuch. To have done so would have detracted from the central narrative of how a British videogame series (as American as it is in theme, GTA is programmed by pasty-faced - I assume - Scotsmen and women in Rockstar North in Edinburgh) broke sales records worldwide.
Kushner writes for magazines and, at times, that makes itself apparent - his prose style can be somewhat breathless. However, he tells the tale well (even if you know how it will end) and I would recommend what is an enjoyable read to anyone with an interest in the series (and popular culture generally).