5 Great Books about the History of Video Games

Close-up of person's hands using a video game controller.

When I was a kid, I was always told that I would grow out of video games. I don't want to admit how many years have gone by since I was first told this, but so far I'm still waiting for that day.

My first love was the Classic 8-bit NES. I loved the system (I even had the infamous NES Power Glove), especially the first The Legend of Zelda game. I spent what felt like eons wandering around, developing problem solving skills, mapping, and hand eye coordination trying to find each hidden secret in order to beat Ganon at the end of the game, which I finally did. I continued using the skills I was developing with new games, new systems, and new peripherals.

Donkey Kong, Mario, & Link

The history of video games has always been fascinating to me, partly because I have been a participant during such a large portion of the medium.Though video games have been around for almost 60 years (!!!), the massive industry that we know of began approximately 40 years ago complete with market crashes and booms all along the way.

Let's explore and celebrate the history of video games with some of our books at the San Jose Public Library. Make sure to check out the bottom of this blog for a special cheat code for the Summer Reading Challenge!

Cover of the book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake HarrisConsole Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris

When I was in middle school, people who played video games were either Team Sega or Team Nintendo. Aggressive behavior, name calling, and fierce competition created a dividing line in the world of video game console fandom. I never realized just how carefully crafted this battle was as Sega tried to find a foothold in the United States while Nintendo tried to use its financial might to edge out all competition. I grew up playing the Super Nintendo in my home and the Sega Genesis at friends' houses, and reading Harris' description of the underdogs at Sega vs. the Nintendo powerhouse showed me how marketing manipulated us all during that time. Reading about the pressure the game companies faced to create new, exciting games and heroes is fascinating to this day and portrayed well in Harris' account.

Cover of Playing With Power: Nintendo NES Classics by Garitt RochaPlaying With Power: Nintendo NES Classics by Garitt Rocha

Though I played old arcade games such as Joust and Ms. Pac-Man as a young child, my first real experience with video games was the classic 8-Bit NES. Playing With Power is a homage for anyone who grew up in the late 1980's and early '90's and loved their NES and Nintendo Power magazines. Though much of the book reads like player guides for old NES games like Metroid and Kid Icarus (and with Virtual Consoles, the information is not obsolete), there is valuable information about the architecture of the NES itself and peripheral devices.

Cover of the Guinness World Records 2016 Gaming EditionGuinness World Records 2016: Gamer's Edition

This collection is primarily divided into game series and describes feats each series has accomplished over the years. The book also serves as a repository of gaming timelines. For instance, the book features the "Evolution of Mario," with pictures of him and descriptions of his games through the ages, including his debut in 1981 in Donkey Kong (and his poorly reviewed film, Super Mario Bros.).Other game-related series featured include The Elder Scrolls series, FIFA, Minecraft, Final Fantasy, and Legend of Zelda. There is even an evolution of spaceships article, including ships from Star Fox, Chrono Trigger, Star Craft, and Mass Effect. I had much fun looking through this book and seeing interesting facts visually represented across the history of games (mostly after 1985).

Cover of Game On! by Dustin HansenGame On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More by Dustin Hansen

Game On! reads like Rick Riordan decided to write a book about the history of video games up to the year 2011. The book covers classic games like Pong and the text-based adventure Zork, the fall of the video game industry thanks to games like Atari 2600's E.T., and the triumphant return of gaming with Super Mario Bros. when the NES was released. The history of other franchises are also discussed, including computer games through the 90's and early 2000's. Fun lists round out this collection, such as the top 10 foods and snacks featured in video games (yes, Portal's cake made the list).

The Cover of The Making of Minecraft by Jennifer ZeigerThe Making of Minecraft by Jennifer Zeiger

I haven't played much of Minecraft (I am more of a Terraria fan myself) but cannot deny the innovation and massive success of the game. Zeiger's book briefly discusses how Markus Persson created the game in his spare time while working at a software company. The game became so popular he was able to develop his own studio and update the game more and more. The book also describes the purchase of Persson's Mojang studio by Microsoft and the evolution of the game after that.

Why not sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge?

Summer Reading Challenge 2017 logo

If you are interested in reading these books, you should consider signing up for the 2017 Summer Reading Challenge at your library. All readers of any age are encouraged to participate. Children and teens will earn a free new book for reading 10 hours, and a prize for reading 20 hours. Adults who read 10 hours will receive a coupon for a free book at qualifying Friends of the Library book nooks and book sales.

The more you read, the more drawings you will be eligible to enter for some great prizes. With your online account you can also enter secret codes to help earn the points you need to enter more drawings and prizes. For instance, just for reading this blog you can enter the code HIGHSCORE and get points added to your activity log. Try it now!


this is such a great post about the influence, history, and lure of video games! I still enjoy playing games and too keep waiting for the day when I will grow out of it! I guess some of us just love problem solving and achievements!

Thank you so much Monique! I'm happy to hear there are other video game fans out there. Aren't these books fun?

Great blog Megan! It makes me feel nostalgic (and maybe a little old) to remember the game systems of my childhood.

Thanks, Alyssa! That's very kind. Yeah looking at these made me feel the age, too, but I'm so glad I was around for so much of this.

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