How can any long time gamer not be triggered by a title such as this? The idea alone sounds absurd, but Tony Mott and the many people he cooperated with pulled it off: they collected essays on over a thousand influential video games and bound them all together in a big ol’ book. There are many different uses for this legendary tome, and using it to knock out burglars is just one of them.
There is no hyperbole to be found here, this book really contains a chronological list of 1001 video games that its creators feel you must play, though to be fair it’d be more honest to say that these are actually games that made significant contributions to gaming as a whole, rather than treating it as a subjective list. These can be the inventors of entire genres, Doom and Grand Theft Auto certainly have their place within these pages after all, but the journalists that contributed are just as eager to talk about games that just introduced or particularly refined a mechanic or theme.
For reasons I’ll get to in a moment, this book is best used as a novelty item. It’s fun to show off and have your friends look for their favorite games, or indeed look up your own to see what was written about it. Browsing through its pages is also a good way to decide what to play next, even if some of the games on show are highly obscure, Japan-only arcade cabinets from time to time. If you, like myself, buy it with the purpose of reading the whole thing, you’ll quickly find that this is an exhausting and futile exercise.
The book uses several different setups depending on how much the writer had to say about any given game, so sometimes 4 games share 2 pages with a few tiny pictures accompanying them and at other times one game gets to hog a whole page (or even two!). Alternating these formats makes the book a bit easier to read, as you go from reading a longer, detailed piece on a legendary game to reading a few, shorter bits on smaller titles that should not go forgotten either. You are not constantly slogging through long paragraphs and the use of pictures to show off the games was worth sacrificing some space for.
A great number of journalists have contributed to the book and you do kind of notice that writing style and the overall quality of the pieces changes along with the writer. While Tony Mott made an admirable effort as the editor to unite all these different voices, a few typos and grammar mistakes do pop up from time to time. I also just found some pieces weren’t memorable, like the moment I turned the page I already kind of forgot what game was being talked about and why it was so important. While the writers sell you on the idea that these were important games, they don’t always manage to explain why in a way that is entertaining. That is exactly why binge-reading this book is not the best idea.
There are other unfortunate issues with the book, starting with the preface provided by Peter Molyneux. It kind of makes sense because many of his games appear in the book and he is a well-known gaming celebrity, but that latter statement is not to be taken as praise. He has been part of countless controversies, both before and after this came out, and he just plain doesn’t deserve the honor to make a contribution to this effort.
That matter aside, the hardbook cover itself is neat and simple, but comes with a more colorful and active sleeve that is not attached to it. Personally, I am not a fan of these hardcover books with an extra cover, as I feel they get in the way of reading comfortably. The sleeve looks too nice to just throw out, but it kept shifting while I tried to read so I took it off, put it somewhere, and eventually just lost the darn thing anyway.
So if you have an interest in older games and want to really see how gaming evolved and the games that made it possible, then 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die is a steep, but worthy investment. If you prefer more modern games or are looking for more detailed essays on these games than the small paragraphs they tend to get here, then it’s probably safe to skip it. Either way, the book looks really nice and is fun to show off, you just need to ask yourself if you are actually willing to read it.