Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
by Blake Harris
Nerdy Professor Impressions
I’m a sucker for history and interview-based research. I also love video games, having grown up with both Sega and Nintendo. GIven this, I was ecstatic when I first heard about Console Wars. But while the story is generally an interesting one for a fan of retro games and a reader of the industry, its presentation was far from ideal. Harris deserves tremendous credit for tackling this story and for the amount of work he put into it. However, his approach to storytelling was often frustrating and occasionally bordered on feeling dishonest. The frustrating parts are related to Harris’s silly prose. As Tim Martin from The Telegraph (review linked below) wrote:
“Harris out-Browns Dan Brown. ‘As his copper-coloured eyes fixed on the receptionist,’ we read of one meeting, ‘a smile slid across one side of his face, while a slight scowl draped across the other.’ Two Sega employees work on a marketing project: ‘The faucet of ideas was turned on full blast and their minds melded into one.'”
This type of writing is silly enough for fiction, but fails entirely in a factual book designed to tell an accurate historical story. But this is not even the worst part. What’s worse is his reconstruction of dialogue, which is clearly embellished and even comes across as untruthful.As Frank Cifaldi wrote in his review for Kotaku (also linked below) , writing “embellished journalism” is tricky, and like Cifaldi, after reading a number of recreated conversations, the language felt stilted and fake, making the book ultimately feel more like a work of fiction than an historical narrative.
Still, Console Wars is worth reading for fans of the medium and of gaming history. However, be prepared to withstand it’s bloated length (almost 600 pages) and the quirks of Harris’s writing, which might make one question how genuine his account truly is.
(Click on the website names for links to the full reviews.)
GoodReads: 3.9/5 (as of 10/5/17)
NY Times: “…focuses on the history of video games as an industry rather than as a creative enterprise. The ‘war’ here is a contest of commerce, a battle for market share between two companies that is not unlike the Coke and Pepsi wars or the Nike and Reebok sneaker wars.”
Kirkus Reviews: “The good news is that despite being a bit lopsided in its portrayal of the players involved, the book is a highly entertaining behind-the-scenes thriller in which price fixing, psychotically aggressive marketing schemes and, occasionally, genuine innovation all come into play.”
Kotaku: “And while all of that may be completely accurate, I can’t shake the feeling that despite the book having more than 200 interview subjects, I’m missing another side of the story. Regardless, the amount of research and dedication Harris put in is practically unparalleled in video game journalism, and the previously-undisclosed information contained in its pages is enough to make even the most seasoned video game history buff excited. Despite its flaws, Console Wars has earned its place in my video game history library, right next to my dog-eared first print of Game Over.”
The Telegraph: 1/5 – “…Harris makes little attempt to relate the events of his narrative to the shifting context of video game development since the mid-Nineties. Console Wars is likely to evoke the odd twinge of nostalgia in the video game warriors of 20 years ago, but it left this one wondering what on earth we were all fighting for.”
Wired: “Console Wars slots in nicely to the previously existing library of history books covering the game industry. Now that the iron veil of public relations is beginning to fall from the days of 16-bit gaming, it’s exciting to finally get a no-holds-barred account of a history that has largely been kept secret from the public eye.”
USGamer: “Still, these moments of self-indulgence are few in number, and Console Wars does an excellent job of exposing how a dose of healthy competition transformed video games into the massive industry we know it as today. And, unsettlingly enough, Harris’ book also shows how much of our gaming tastes have inevitably been formed through the efforts of cold, calculating businesspeople. This isn’t a criticism of Harris’ writing, but Console Wars is essentially a history of executives and business decisions, and given the hush-hush world of Japanese game development, more interesting stories lurk in the background that will probably never be told”