Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games (Paperback)
A wide-ranging anthology of essays exploring one of the most vital art forms on the planet today
From the earliest computers to the smartphones in our pockets, video games have been on our screens and part of our lives for over fifty years. Critical Hits celebrates this sophisticated medium and considers its lasting impact on our culture and ourselves.
This collection of stylish, passionate, and searching essays opens with an introduction by Carmen Maria Machado, who edited the anthology alongside J. Robert Lennon. In these pages, writer-gamers find solace from illness and grief, test ideas about language, bodies, power, race, and technology, and see their experiences and identities reflected in—or complicated by—the interactive virtual worlds they inhabit. Elissa Washuta immerses herself in The Last of Us during the first summer of the pandemic. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah describes his last goodbye to his father with the help of Disco Elysium. Jamil Jan Kochai remembers being an Afghan American teenager killing Afghan insurgents in Call of Duty. Also included are a comic by MariNaomi about her time as a video game producer; a deep dive into “portal fantasy” movies about video games by Charlie Jane Anders; and new work by Alexander Chee, Hanif Abdurraqib, Larissa Pham, and many more.
J. Robert Lennon is the author of nine novels and three story collections, including Let Me Think, Subdivision, and Broken River.
Carmen Maria Machado is the author of the memoir In the Dream House and the story collection Her Body and Other Parties.
“Being a gamer is not a cost of entry into Critical Hits, which emerges as a fresh deviation from stale debates. . . . Here instead is an array of arguments for how games structure our behavior and perception of the world around us. Lennon and Machado have emboldened a discourse on how we are learning to live among games in thought and deed, at the very least, one player at a time.”—Joseph Earl Thomas, The New York Times Book Review
“In this variety pack of exciting essays, writers make an electric case for the essentiality of video games, both as storytelling aids and as ways of understanding the world. . . . Critical Hits marks the welcome ascendance of an emerging body of gamer literature.”—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire's “Best Books of Fall 2023”
“Urgent, intimate, and vulnerable. . . . The contributors to Critical Hits proudly invite us into the highest and lowest moments of their lives, into the physical or digital spaces where they have nursed wounds, basked in victories, and surrendered themselves to something greater than the capitalist imperative for productivity: connection and freedom.”—Jenzo DuQue, Bomb
“[Video games] raise profound questions for the humans who find themselves enraptured by these digital puzzles, adventures, and battles lighting up their computers, televisions, or handheld consoles. . . . These questions and others receive sharp attention in essays by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Alexander Chee, Larissa Pham, and other authors who boldly own and astutely analyze their engagement with video games and their intersections with family, friendship, love, and other heady subjects.”—Poets & Writers Magazine
“The essays in Critical Hits add up to a pastiche perhaps best described as a travelogue of subjective experience and places (Digital? Real? Who cares?). These are places of pain, wonder, and existential bewilderment. They push so far past the ‘Is it art?’ debate as to render it moot.”—Patrick House, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Insightful. . . . The diverse entries highlight the ways in which the far out plots of video games can change how players understand themselves and the world around them. Gamers with a literary bent should take a look.” —Publishers Weekly
“Whether they’re casual gamers, lifelong fans, or simply curious, readers will come away with a deepened sense of appreciation for the medium.”—Booklist
“Alexander Chee, Charlie Jane Anders, Hanif Abdurraqib, and other writers who love gaming wax poetic about the lasting emotional impact that comes with playing some of the most popular video games on the market: The Last of Us, Call of Duty, and Disco Elysium.”—Time's “Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2023”
“A veritable arcade of essays on the cultural vitality of video games.”—Michelle Hart, Electric Literature's “Most Anticipated LGBTQ+ Books for Fall 2023”
“This is certainly our first Great American Gamer Essay Collection.”—The Millions
“A loot drop of brilliance, and a hugely satisfying and entirely convincing literary salvo on the artistic worth of games in our lives.”—Naomi Alderman, author of The Power
“These fun, funny, occasionally cutting but often affirming essays celebrate the surprising potency of video games and virtual experiences. With any luck, this book will find a place of honor on every literary gamer’s bookshelf.”—Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter and co-author of The Disaster Artist
“A delightful, oddball book. . . . Critical Hits is an uncommonly good anthology. The essays collected here are deeply personal, rigorously argued, and, fittingly playful. . . . Essays like this are a joy to read. And, no less important, they are an invitation to play.”—Hardeep Sidhu, Harvard Review