WithYou, Austin Grossman offers his most daring and most personal novel yet--a
thrilling, hilarious, authentic portrait of the world of professional
game makers; and the story of how learning to play can save your life.
I wanted to write the Great American
Video Game Novel.
I wanted to write about my time in the
game industry in the 1990's, and all the exciting things that were happening
there as we competed to invent this thing that was just turning the corner from
toy to mass media to art. And I wanted to tell the story of four kids who would
do anything to escape their stupid lives, but instead of starting a death-metal
band or writing poetry or taking drugs, they decide to make the greatest video
game in history.
But there was a problem, a novel-writing
problem: Who cares about video games? Technically, I and countless millions of
other people do, but to a novelist trying to tell a good story there's a
haunting question: Is this just going to be a novel about people staring at
I knew the obvious way past this. You
just say "There's a video game with a bomb attached to it! And unless our
hero gets a perfect score, it's going to blow up, and all - all! - the orphans
will die." And that's one way to tell that story - you make video games a
mechanism for a plot based on sensible, familiar real-world stakes.
But something in me said "no"
to writing that novel. It was the nagging feeling I was underestimating the
possibilities of a novel about video games. Making it about the bomb and the
orphans was like saying video games don't matter. And people do sometimes play
video games even when there aren't innocent lives at stake, don't they? There
has to be a way of writing about them that showed why video games are the
entertainment medium to beat in the 21st century.
I thought about why I make and play games,
and I tried to be honest about it. Sometimes I want to goof around with my
friends. Sometimes it's been a long, crappy day and I want to feel like I'm
somewhere else for a while, doing something else, being someone else - in fact
the way a novel makes me feel.
I first came to video games because they
were a way of making friends, and a way of leaving my house and my town, of
striking out on my own to a place where parents and teachers couldn't follow,
long before I could drive a car. Then as now, I came to games for lots of
reasons. I came them angry, I came to them lonely, I came to them curious about
who I could be if I tried.
People come to gaming from their own
individual histories, and it was putting gameplay into prose that taught me
that everyone's got a reason to play a video game, and how they do it speaks
volumes. And then I wasn't just writing a novel about video games. I was
writing about friendship, about ambition, about grief, about everything the
hero of a video game feels - you know the hero I'm talking about, the one at
the controller making the choices, taking the risks, losing and winning. The
hero, which is to say, you.