Let’s Talk Books! — Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North

When’s the last time you read a choose-your-own-adventure book? I haven’t read one since I was a kid, and honestly I don’t even remember reading many of them. It was probably just one. And for that matter, it was probably something I killed 20 minutes in the library reading when I was little and didn’t even check it out.

Regardless, through the rest of my life I’ve always assumed these kinds of books were mostly for kids. Maybe they are. I don’t know. I’m not an expert or even very experienced in this kind of thing. But one of my friends recently picked up a new book, and when she told me it was a choose-your-own-adventure book of Romeo and Juliet where you can get entirely new scenarios out of these two Shakespearean characters, I honestly felt excited to borrow and check it out myself. It sounded like a really interesting idea!

I’m assuming everyone knows the basics behind Romeo and Juliet, even if they haven’t read it in a long time. And if you don’t, well… I haven’t read it in a long time either so I can’t tell you much. Didn’t really care for it back then, either. Even as a romantic daydreaming teen I could see there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. They fell in love on the spot based solely on appearance, decided to get married, then killed themselves because their families didn’t want them to be together. Yeah, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s basically the story in a nutshell. It definitely feels like it romanticizes toxic behavior and I always thought it was kind of bull that this was supposed to be a relationship we were supposed to empathize with.

So — surprise! I liked this book a lot better than the original play. For one, there’s a much more lighthearted tone. It’s very humorous and isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and even pokes fun at Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is played up as being obsessed with the idea of love and completely unrealistic. Instead of being helpless and unable to stand on her own two feet, Juliet is given many opportunities to take her life in her own hands, many of which involve not even dealing with Romeo.

Naturally there’s too many paths to realistically read at once. I’ve gone through four or five different readthroughs before deciding to give the book back. I cheated a little, too: I often kept a finger on a page that required me to make a choice, and if I chose a sudden ending I’d read that and then go back to choose something else rather than read through the entire beginning again.

In fact, if there was one thing I’d criticize, it’d be that rereading the book so soon after one path can get a little monotonous. While there are many creative options to choose from throughout the story, the beginning is always going to feel repetitive until you get to the more varied choices. You’ll always read the introductions to both Romeo and Juliet, you’ll always hear Romeo whine about Rosaline if you start with him (although to be fair, it always cracked me up when Romeo asks why a woman in her thirties doesn’t return the love of a 15-year old within minutes of meeting), and you’ll always go through Juliet’s mom telling her daughter about her plans to marry her off at a party being thrown if you choose to start with Juliet.

But honestly, given the nature of the book, I don’t think it’s really meant to be read repeatedly within a short time. This is a book that’s really good to pick up when you’re in the mood to read, but don’t want to start a new book or continue with one you’re in the middle of. It’s perfect for killing an hour or two when you want to read but only want your investment to last about that long.

Don’t let that discourage you from checking it out, though. Romeo and/or Juliet was a great experience and I’d like to pick up a copy for myself sometime soon. I think it’s great whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or just have casual knowledge of Romeo and Juliet. It’s also perfect for nerdier people like myself — there’s a lot of references to games scattered throughout the book. There’s even an option to go through a path where you take the role of Juliet’s nurse when she has to deliver a message to Romeo, and it plays out just like an old text-based adventure game. At the end of one path I even “unlocked” a new character to “play” as! I’m gonna keep that readthrough for whenever I buy the book, though. Gives me a little more of an incentive to pick it up sooner rather than later.

There’s also a lot of cool illustrations throughout the book, mostly accompanying each ending. If you’re a fan of comic books, you may recognize someone’s art here. There’s a big list of all the contributing artists at the back of the book in alphabetical order, so browse through it if you’re curious (especially if you’re a fan of the Adventure Time comics; a lot of that team has art in Romeo and/or Juliet, including creator Pen Ward himself!).

My friend found her copy in Barnes and Noble, so definitely go look for it and flip through some of it the next time you’re there. It’s probably not for everyone, but I think almost everyone can at least get a few good laughs just from sampling it. And if you like what you read, pick it up! I think it’s definitely worth it!

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

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Info for my edition of Romeo and/or Juliet:

Published 2016 by Riverhead Books

Paperback, 400 pages

ISBN 978-1-101-98330-0

 

 

Let’s Talk Books — How Games Move Us: Emotion By Design by Katherine Isbister

Today’s book is different from the usual stuff I talk about in these posts. This time I’m going to be discussing a book that’s more like an analytical essay. And normally, I probably wouldn’t cover something like this since I don’t have as much to say (I normally wouldn’t read something like this, for that matter), but considering the subject matter I wanted to not only read it, but at the very least briefly talk about it.

First though, a couple of random things about me. I like to read. I also like to play video games. Despite most of my posts discussing books, if I had to choose I think video games hold more of a place in my heart. For better or worse, at the end of the day my video game related experiences stick out to me more than my reading ones. I don’t really know why, because both are important to me. Maybe one of the reasons is because I’m more of a visual and audio person, so when something particularly interesting or moving is happening in a TV show, movie, or video game, it naturally grips me more easily. That’s not to say there aren’t moments like that when I read, but I’ll admit that between a reading year that’s usually providing me with experiences that are mostly only okay at best and maybe even how quickly I go through them, I’ve been finding it more difficult to get those same memorable moments from books alone.

Maybe it’s also because of my current surroundings. When I was in high school, most of my friends were into video games so naturally that played a bigger role in my life. When I studied creative writing in college, books were naturally more of a focus because the people around me all had that in common. At the moment more people I know are into video games than reading books, so I guess as a result I’ve started leaning towards that side of the spectrum again.

But that whole time, I always thought it was weird that most of these people in my life either liked one activity or the other, but rarely both. And I can’t help but ask, why? Both are on the nerdier side of life, and I can get why hardcore readers and hardcore gamers might not like each other, but it always struck me as kind of weird there isn’t more of a shared interest.

Which brings me to today’s book, How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. I felt like the title said it all: a book showing how video games can be as emotionally captivating as any other medium. I was pretty interested and hopeful that maybe this would be something that could show other people that video games have more potential than they may give them credit for.

How Games Move Us is separated into four main sections. The first takes a look at different parts of game design that help create a meaningful experience. Katherine Isbister talks about things like how player characters and the role they play within each game affect how the experience impacts the player.

The second section is about playing with other people and how that leaves a lasting impression on people. Whether it’s with people in the same room or one person playing online with many, the author explores how playing with others affects us.

The third section is more or less about motion controls, or using movement to play a game. Different examples of games show how physically moving contributes to a more immersive experience and how there’s more potential to connect with others through games like these.

The final section discusses examples of how video games build intimacy between people, but honestly it feels more like an extension of the second section. At the end of the day, all of these sections basically try to apply how emotional reactions can stem from game experiences. I think as a whole, it accomplishes this. But like I mentioned before, this book is more like a big analytical essay. And I think it kind of loses me there.

I enjoy a lot of analytical reviews on YouTube, so I don’t think being analytical is solely why I didn’t like it more. It’s more because this is like a scientific analysis. Despite talking about emotions and connecting with people, the entire book has that robotic feel you might expect from reading someone’s school essay on any given subject, filled with source listings in the middle of the read and everything. It feels like a formal presentation, and for a book about emotions and connecting with others I don’t think that’s the best approach. Like I said, How Games Move Us technically tells us how games connect people. But the way it told us could have been a lot more… moving.

The best parts were actual stories told by people. For example, a couple people that played the online game City of Heroes wrote about their experiences. There was a mother and daughter that played, for example, and it was a bonding experience. One of them gave the other a bunch of items in-game, and even though they weren’t great items she kept them the whole time they played because they viewed them as sentimental gestures. Another player wrote about how when the servers were going to shut down and the game would be finished forever, he reflected on all the friends he’d made and unique backstories for characters he’d seen, and how a bunch of them played until the last moments before the game shut down for good for one last hurrah. That was sad and a little moving, and I wish there were more personal stories like this in the book.

I want to say I was expecting something different, but realistically I guess this is the only thing the book could have been. After all, even though I’m sure a lot of people want to hear more personal stories about how video games affected them, a collection of them from random people probably wouldn’t sell as well as this academic essay on how game design affects people at an emotional level.

For that matter, I’m not really sure how well something like this sold. Despite coming out this year, I couldn’t find a copy in my library’s district or in any bookstores; I had to get this one online. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but if you happen to have a copy in your library or know someone that has it, How Games Move Us might be an interesting read if you’re into this type of essay format.

The thing is, I don’t know who I could recommend this for. Gamers will probably appreciate some of it, but it’s mostly stuff they probably already know. And people that don’t play games might be interested, but I don’t think they’ll be able to fully appreciate what the author was trying to convey due to the mostly scientific tone of the book.

It’s just a shame because I was really hoping this book could have brought a common ground between gamers and readers. But in the end, I don’t think it will.

Or maybe it will. I don’t know. Who the hell am I to say?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

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Info for my edition of How Games Move Us: Emotion By Design:

Published 2016 by Mit Press

Hardcover, 192 pages

ISBN 9-780262-034265