Picks and Pans Review: Joystick Nation

UPDATED 09/22/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/22/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

by J.C. Herz

If Citizen Kane took place in the 21st century," the author writes, "Orson Welles would be sighing 'Mario!' instead of 'Rosebud.' " According to Herz, author of 1995's Surfing on the Internet, that's how deeply video games tap into our basic instincts and how much they've become part of our collective psyche. In this witty, high-wired treatise, Herz chronicles the evolution of electronic games from the '60s pre-Pong era up to the newest generation, last year's Nintendo 64. She defines genres and their appeal: The shoot-'em-up Doom is all about primal terror and survival; the classic puzzler Tetris is about making order out of chaos. Herz's analysis isn't deep, but it's often right on (Pac-Man may be "a Paramecium with only two behaviors—engorge or flee, but at least he gave the player something to identify with...a face"). And there are great factoids, such as how Nintendo uses robots to load software at its distribution center because they don't steal. Herz can be too much of a fan, even as she describes how the video games "pander to the essential gross-ness of teenage boys" with their violence, gore and bimbos galore. But the book is fun—even if it doesn't compare to a game of Donkey Kong. (Little, Brown, $23.95)

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