Gaming Literature: All Your Base Are Belong To us

It’s kind of rude when you think about it. “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” is a meme so old it predates meme culture. It’s a bit of gaming history, a hilarious reminder of how obviously poor game translations were in the dark ages. The phrase belongs to the gaming community, so it takes a lot of gall to just take ownership of it and print the phrase on the cover of your book. Especially when that book never actually talks about the phrase or even the game it came from.

The book is effectively a collection of separate essays on various landmark achievements throughout gaming’s rise to prominence. It covers everything from Popcap’s popularization of the casual game to the long and painful birth of Pong.

I was initially very unimpressed when I looked through the book and saw the topics it would address. While certainly informative, most people with an interest in gaming history won’t be shocked by chapters about the Brown Box, or the Gaming Crash of 1983, or Nintendo ditching Sony after initially agreeing to cooperate on a disk-based system. These are well-known events throughout our medium’s history that are very often talked-about and are easy to get into. I feared the book would provide a very surface-level overview of our history, but I wasn’t giving writer Harold Goldberg enough credit there.

Through interviews with various people and by drawing information from biographies, old articles, and his personal experiences, Harold manages to retell these events in an entirely new way. Harold really manages to characterize the people within the companies, which makes stories like the acquisition of Tetris as much a gaming culture phenomenon, as it was a personal adventure for the likes of Henk Rogers, Alexei Pazjitnov, and Hiroshi Yamauchi.

And not all of the people involved in these stories are big stars like Yamauchi or Ralph Baer. Quite a few are little-known code wizards, obscure business people, or one-hit wonders whose lives and efforts went largely unrecorded by time. You can’t find this stuff on Wikipedia and for that alone the book is quite the interesting read.

My grievance with All Your Base Are Belong To Us lies with its needlessly obnoxious writing style. While I found myself breezing through the pages, I got increasingly frustrated with Goldberg’s frequent comparisons to bizarre and unrelated topics. The first chapters makes an attempt to namedrop games a few times by likening a harsh winter to Lost Planet or a dreary city to Gears of War, but these are soon dropped in favor of whatever the hell happened to be on the writer’s mind.

Classic literature, obscure history, cars, celebrities, sex, ancient TV shows, Goldberg will bring up anything to spruce up his story, no matter how strained or unrelated to games it may be. Your annoyance may vary, but I did run into a few instances where I got completely lost because Goldberg started ranting about old movie stars or something. At times it’s just unsavory; like in a chapter discussing Miyamoto’s career and the creation of Mario, where Goldberg compares getting the greenlight from Nintendo CEO Yamauchi to having sex with your dream partner.

In fact, there is a bit of fascination throughout the book with making absolutely sure to always be talking about “cool” things like drugs and sex. I thought this was maybe just a major things in the early industry, it being the 70s and such, but it carries on well into later chapters of the book. Even during the rare moments where people aren’t doing coke or each other on the office toilets, Goldberg is sure to insert some references to sex & drugs anyway, or fantasize about the geeky programmers trying to seduce the office secretaries.

I am by no means a prude, but it gets annoying to slog through Goldberg’s story, even if the contents are very meaningful and educational. Then I came to a chapter where Goldberg talks about Ratchet and Clank as being a homo-erotic video game duo, and I couldn’t muster the energy to carry on after that.

I don’t like the Ratchet and Clank games myself, but I confirmed with Stian from Corrupt Save Files that there is no homo-erotic storyline throughout the Ratchet series. Even then, Goldberg specifically mentions the game Ratchet and Clank Future… which doesn’t exist. Future is a label for a number of Ratchet games, 3 of which were out at the time of the book’s publication. The odd phrasing of the statement makes it difficult to discern if this was meant as a joke, but even if it was meant that way, it severely harmed my ability to trust Goldberg’s word any further.

I already had my doubts before, as the book features a number of glaring mistakes. Besides this Rathet fiasco, for example, one of the King’s Quests games that is specifically mentioned as being the best-seller of the series is listed with the wrong name. The book claims it is called Absence Makes The Heart Grow Younger instead of Absence Makes The Heart Grow Yonder.

Being paranoid about how many other mistakes might be in there would be unfair to the genuinely amazing interviews Goldberg conducted, but his willingness to rant about random crap or make bizarre sexual statements in the middle of his texts does him no favors.

If you’re able to tolerate Goldberg’s writing style, then All Your Base Are Belong To Us is, genuinely, a very good book about gaming history. Even if this isn’t your first time hearing about an Atari 2600, Goldberg still manages to provide backstory and context that is extremely helpful in understanding how the gaming scene of today came to be. For all his flaws, he manages to passionately retell the life stories of amazing game creators and I have to admit that I got sucked in. It turned Ralph Baer from a gaming icon into a tangible person that I got to understand and emphatize with, who I wanted to see attain success against all odds.

If that sounds interesting, then maybe the annoying moments and crappy jokes are worth sitting through.

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