Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman (2014) by SCAR Productions
System:Analog Book
Game Type: Read 'em up
Players: 1+ as many people as can look over the reader's shoulder

Review by PrimeOp

Disclaimer/Real Talk: I drew the cover and that may influence my opinion, but this page is here because I honestly enjoyed the book and think it deserves more attention. I'm using the review template for the fun of it.

If you're part of the online world of old-school video game fandom, you may know Rob "Dire51" Strangman as the creator of the Organization for the Preservation of Classic Forms of Gaming (a.k.a. the OPCFG), his specific game tribute sites like West Mansion and the Ghoul Realm or his guest contributions to many other sites. What some of you may not know is that Rob is also a very talented storyteller. His first book, Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman, combines his writing skills and knowledge of video game lore to craft a look at video gaming's past as seen through life itself.

Some video game books come off like a dry rehash of facts with the warmth and charm of Wikipedia articles. Others talk about gaming through a filter of current popular opinions with either too much glittery nostalgia or goatee-stroking pseudo-intellectual snobbery, both offering far more opinion than fact. Thankfully, this book doesn't fall into either category. Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman is a collection of short, true stories that revolve around video games as told by the people themselves.

Strangman's section of the book starts with his family getting the Atari 2600, follows him through the later systems, the events that lead to birth of his OPCFG website and ends with the story of the Virtual Caveman himself. The hook of 'Memoir' is how the stories weave in the context of the times that the systems and games were released. His story about playing the Atari 2600 with the entire family, mom and dad included. Little bits like working with friends on their ideas for game sequels, coming up with their own gaming terms and rediscovering the fun of an old system are things that a lot of gamers have lived through regardless of what era you grew up in. There are also those bits that many articles and books seem to miss when talking about the earlier days of gaming. The fact that whole families played the Atari 2600 together is a rarely mentioned fact about the old days that will probably surprise those who have been taught that parents hated video games back then. Rob's early dislike of having to switch from using an Atari joystick to an NES gamepad is the kind of often absent information that tends to repeat itself if Wii we forget it. The book even has an example of the moral panic that caused game publishers to edit their content for the United States. Again, part of this book's magic is in giving context to why things were the way they were for video games at that time.
This moment doesn't lead to a space odyssey², but a different console is encountered.
This book isn't a one-player affair, because Rob Strangman is joined by various contributors. Co-op teammates include fellow players such as Sam 'Scion' Roberts of the Lightsword Cypher Database Strider fansite, Cat DeSpira (No Princess in the Castle), Caitlin Oliver (monster-kickin' World High Score record holder for Splatterhouse), Mike "Sotenga" Plaskett (writer for Hardcore Gaming 101 and Third Moon message board member in good standing), and the all-around talented Karry Blank. There are also interviews with people who worked on some of the best games ever, including David Crane, Yuzo Koshiro, Kouichi "Isuke" Yotsui, Howard Scott Warshaw. Inspirational game magazine legends like Martin Alessi, Sushi-X the late Bill Kunkel get their due in the book, too. Reading from a wide array of people from the various sectors of the gaming world broadens the scope of the book and gives a much richer sense of the past. It's like hearing the various slice-of-life stories in a Ken Burns documentary, but without that sad music. The first-person perspectives (literary, not from behind a shotgun) makes it a more pleasing read than a lecture in book form.
Lunarus, a game so rare that it can only be found in alternate realities, has yet to be emulated.

Be sure to check out the Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman website to see a complete list of who is in the book, read a few sample stories and find where you can buy the book. Gameplay 8
Graphics 7
Sound 8
Control 10
Overall 8

Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman © 2008-2015 SCAR Productions

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