Even the most hardcore gamers need a break sometimes. Why not rest your eyes and pick up a good book (or give one to your favorite gamer) in the meantime? The following 19 books are entertaining, informative, or otherwise awesome investigations of the world of video games.
I've selected a handful of different types of books, some sci-fi and fiction, others about the history of gaming, and even a few on the theory and principles behind making your own games.
Don't expect any game-specific spinoff series in this list. If you want fiction written around a game you know and love, you probably already know where to find it. These books are great for all gamers, particularly those who want to learn more about the industry in general and appreciate the games they're playing on a more fundamental level.
Let's get the obvious choices out of the way early, shall we? Having just released as a major motion picture, Ender's Game even has game in the title. But there are several levels of gaming within this book, from the war games that Ender and his jeesh play to learn military strategy and teamwork to the tablet-based game that Ender plays alone as part of his lessons. This book was far ahead of its time in understanding that games can play a huge role in the development and education of young minds.
Author: Orson Scott Card
Buy Ender's Game on Amazon
Yeah yeah, I promise I didn't just search for books with the word game in the title. The Hunger Games isn't just the latest tween sensation. It's also a great story of a dystopian future where children are forced to fight to the death in televised games. Suzanne explores the game concept deeply in The Hunger Games. The games are surrounded by spectacle, interviews, celebrity, tradition, and drama - there are lots of little touches that create a believable world around this brutal sport.
I would only be partially joking if I said I created this entire list just to share this book. I've read this book twice since picking it up last year, and I honestly can't wait to read it again. Ready Player One is the story of Wade Watts, a random kid jacked into the OASIS, the massive virtual world on which most of the world's population lives and conducts business. When the creator of the OASIS passed away, he left clues to a game, the winner of which will be awarded his vast fortune and control of his company. Only those steeped in 80s and 90s culture can hope to unravel the clues and claim the prize.
Author: Ernest Cline
Buy Ready Player One on Amazon
What's crazy about Snow Crash is that it was originally published in 1992. Neal Stephenson crafted a hilariously satirical world of gigantic corporate states, massively multiplayer online worlds, and floating garbage cities. Come for the cyberpunk story, and you'll end up staying for the great writing.
Author: Neal Stephenson
Buy Snow Crash on Amazon
You may recognize Cory Doctorow, the author of For the Win (and many other books) from your travels on the Internet. He's also the co-editor of Boing Boing and an outspoken critic of digital rights management and advocate for Creative Commons. For the Win is a story of massively multiplayer online games, the gold farming sweatshops that thrive off of them, and revolution.
Author: Cory Doctorow
Buy For the Win on Amazon
Another Neal Stephenson book, you ask? Yes, and deservedly so. Not only is this book an extremely entertaining read, it focuses on topics near and dear to the gamer heart: artificial intelligence and interactive education. When three very different girls receive an interactive book with advanced intelligence designed to steer them toward a more "interesting life", their lives become intertwined and empowered as they seek to subvert the status quo.
Author: Neal Stephenson
Buy The Diamond Age on Amazon
It would have been easy to fill this list with just art books from various games, but while those make great gifts and great coffee table books, they don't entertain in quite the same way a good story does. The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is easily my favorite example of the collected art book for several reasons: a) it's Zelda - one of the longest-lasting and most beloved game franchises ever, b) it's gorgeous and inspiring, and c) it's literally sitting on the desk beside me. Any Zelda fan would love to own this book, but feel free to substitute any art book from your gamer's favorite series.
Authors: Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, Akira Himekawa, et al
Buy The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia on Amazon
Let's take a turn from fiction to history and look at the story of Dungeons & Dragons. The rules, storytelling, and overall mechanics that have defined Dungeons & Dragons from its inception underpin many of the gaming world's greatest successes. Of Dice and Men explores the origins and various rule shifts of Dungeons & Dragons over time, as well as introducing some of its more fascinating characters and even tips on honing your own dungeon master skills.
Author: David Ewalt
Buy Of Dice and Men on Amazon
Replay zooms out a bit and looks at the broader history of video games, from their origins to where the industry is heading. If you want a better idea of where your favorite pastime started, this is a great introduction and a worthy addition to your gaming library.
Author: Tristan Donovan
Buy Replay on Amazon
The Nintendo of today may seem like a diminished version of its former self, but they have been around far longer than any of their competitors. Their characters are among the most easily recognized brands in the world, and they continue to create innovative new games and styles of play. Game Over explores the history of this amazing company.
Author: David Sheff
Buy Game Over on Amazon
John Carmack and John Romero: even non-gamers will recognize their names. Masters of Doom follows these two titans of the early gaming world from their rebellious roots to their infamous creations, Doom and Quake, and explores their decisions and influence along the way.
Author: David Kushner
Buy Masters of Doom on Amazon
In Reality Is Broken, author and game designer Jane McGonigal explores how games can change the nature of human interaction, how we can use game mechanics to solve social problems and bring about a better society. If you're tired of hearing non-gamers complain about what a waste games are, read a copy of this book or better yet share it with them. Want an even better introduction? Watch Jane McGonigal's TED video.
Author: Jane McGonigal
Buy Reality Is Broken on Amazon
There's a stigma to games that we gamers often resent. Video games are unjustly blamed for many of society's darkest moments, from Columbine to Newtown. Extra Lives explores why games inspire such passion (and revulsion) from opposing sides and how games can become better going forward.
Author: Tom Bissell
Buy Extra Lives on Amazon
Prince of Persia started its life as an Apple ][ computer game designed and developed by a single person, Jordan Mechner. The Making of Prince of Persia chronicles the process from Jordan's journals written during its development. This deeply personal account is an amazing view into the crafting of a classic game.
Author: Jordan Mechner
Buy The Making of Prince of Persia on Amazon
Like The Making of Prince of Persia, Lift Off chronicles the development of a new generation of indie game (The Last Rocket for iOS) through the eyes of its sole developer, Shaun Inman. It's an interesting read of the struggles and successes for a small developer creating games on the growing mobile platform.
Author: Shaun Inman
Buy Lift Off directly
If the developer journals and history books don't scare you off from wanting to create your own game, then you might as well steep yourself in some good game design theory and principles. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses is a great place to start learning the process. Its titular lenses are a series of questions posed from very different perspectives in psychology, design, math, writing, anthropology, and more that will help you examine game concepts more fully as you walk through the process of designing your game.
Author: Jesse Schell
Buy The Art of Game Design on Amazon
Level Up! is a straightforward guide to the entire process of game design, from the initial concept, designing characters, and crafting individual levels and stories to pitching the idea and marketing it to gamers. Along the way, there are lots of great tips that author (and developer/designer) Scott Rogers has picked up along the way.
Author: Scott Rogers
Buy Level Up! on Amazon
Game Design Workshop walks you through the iterative process of creating a game concept, testing it, improving upon it, and creating it, all while giving great practical exercises along the way to help you more fully understand the decisions other game designers have made and the decisions you're making about your own game. Even if you aren't interesting in creating your own game, reading through this book and completing the exercises will give you a much stronger sense of the principles and process to truly appreciate great video games.
Author: Tracy Fullerton
Buy Game Design Workshop on Amazon
If you're a regular around GameSkinny, there's a good chance you're interested in writing about games. Author Jim Rossignol lost his job as a financial reporter as a result of his EVE Online addiction, and this book was the result. He explores the different cultures of gaming around the world as well as the global impact of video games in general. If you're an EVE aficionado, this book will be particularly up your alley as he explores many of the emerging gaming trends through the lens of EVE.
Author: Jim Rossignol
Buy This Gaming Life on Amazon