April 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Great Reads for Video Gamers

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This lineup of gorgeous behind-the-scenes browsers, cool book and graphic-novel tie-ins, and magnetic YA novels that star gamers as protagonists is sure to reel in teens who spend their leisure time with game controller in hand.

Art Books

WatchdogsThe Art of Watch Dogs (Titan, 2014; Gr 9 Up) delves into the edgy world of Ubisoft’s hot-selling new game, set in a Chicago controlled by a centralized network of computers. Players step into the role of Aiden Pearce, a skilled computer hacker whose illicit activities have resulted in a family tragedy, and his quest to seek revenge on his enemies by turning the city itself into his weapon. The book is packed with sketches, concept artwork, screenshots, and other images that showcase the game’s distinctive design aesthetic. Illustrations and creator commentary delineate the development of the major players (and the visual elements that define their characters) and settings (darkly reimagined versions of real Chicago neighborhoods). Other sections offer glimpses at in-game graffiti (for example, the ASCII-inspired street art created by underground “hacktivist” group DedSec) and manifestations of Chicago’s ominous Central Operating System (ctOS), which Aiden (i.e. players) hacks into and manipulates from his smartphone. The level of detail is dazzling—from the careful consideration given to the movement of Aiden’s wind-blown trench coat to the gleaming “ultra-contemporary” look of skyscrapers in the Mad Mile (à la Mag Mile) district.

TitanfallThe newly minted universe of Titanfall (Electronic Arts) features massive battle-tank exoskeletons, a slew of war-torn space colonies and military outposts, and plenty of combat action. The Art of Titanfall (Titan, 2014; Gr 9 Up) pairs beautifully reproduced artwork with quotes from game architects to provide insight into the development of this spectacularly imagined realm. Chapters introduce the hulking Titans and their much more diminutive but equally hard-hitting human pilots; a utilitarian line up of vehicles, weapons, and technology; and locations, from Fracture, a once lush retreat for the wealthy now obliterated by uncontrolled fracking and war (one artist bemoans designing the region’s luxurious buildings only to destroy them), to Boneyard, where settlers have used the giant-size remains of the planet’s indigenous Leviathans to construct homes (and yes, the gargantuan beasts still roam). The enticing gallery of sketches, concept art, mock-ups, steely schematics, in-game graphics, and 3-D maquettes culminates with photos of a full-scale (though non-working) Titan built for a trade show.

Book Tie-ins: Plants vs. Zombies

Plants v ZombiesA far cry from the typical coffee-table showpiece, The Art of Plants vs. Zombies (Dark Horse, 2014; Gr 5 Up) blends images from PopCap’s crowd-pleasing games with snarky—often misspelled and humorously stilted—captions written from the point of view of the featured brain-eating personages (aka “hansum heroes”). Concept sketches and colorful character renderings appear throughout, and a list of rejected titles (such as “Bloom and Doom” and “Field of Screams”) is laugh-out-loud funny. Also presented are amusing artistic renditions created for follow-up games, showing zombies shuffling through history (Ancient Egypt, Wild West, etc.), tricked out in rag-tag uniforms (to take on the “plant infushtashun!”), and more. Of course, images of the narrators’ flowery foes are also included (and much derided). Handsomely and humorously displayed on the pages, these lumbering, googly-eyed, pickle-skinned zombies prove “…that every zombie is a unique and precious snowflake. With legs.” Click here for a teen review of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare video game from an earlier issue.

LawnmageddonFraught with suspense and appropriate silliness, Plants vs. Zombies: Lawnmageddon (Dark Horse, 2013; Gr 5 Up), Paul Tobin and Ron Chan’s original graphic novel, tells the tale two kids who try to save Neighborville from an advancing horde of slow-shuffling, food-seeking zombies (“Brains?”). Patrice and Nate try to take control of this sinister invasion, but things quickly get out of hand. They request the help of Patrice’s Uncle Dave (the game’s saucepan-hat-wearing character, Crazy Dave) and his ready-grown army of pea-shooting, enemy-squashing, cherry-bombing plants. Mad schemes, mayhem, and the occasional cookie break abound in this zany and energetically illustrated adventure.

Book Tie-ins: Injustice: Gods Among Us

InjusticeTom Taylor’s eponymous graphic novel series (DC Comics; Gr 10 Up) serves as a gripping prequel to Injustice: Gods Among Us (Warner Bros. Interactive, 2013). Set in the same alternate version of the DC universe, the story explains the game’s astounding state of affairs—a world ruled “by the iron fist—of a Man of Steel.” It’s five years in the past, and Superman and Lois Lane are married and expecting their first baby. Their happiness is shattered when Joker manages to pull off an elaborate plot—tricking a brainwashed Superman into attacking his wife (she and her unborn child die tragically) and setting off a nuclear warhead that obliterates Metropolis. Devastated, the Man of Steel exacts immediate justice on Joker (with a punch through the heart) and turns his considerable abilities toward enforcing peace on Earth, through any means necessary. Altruism transforms into out-and-out tyranny, and it’s up to Batman to try to rein in his one-time friend. Battle lines are drawn as superheroes take sides in what adds up to a war of the gods. The tale’s fast-paced action, electrifying combat scenes, and large cast of uniquely endowed beings are grounded in very human themes of heartbreak and grief, the effects of absolute power, and the struggle to make the right choices. The dark doings and intense emotions are balanced by occasional moments of levity, and the artwork is robust and vibrant. A riveting read.

Book Tie-ins: Batman: Arkham City

Batman Arkham CitySimilarly, Paul Dini and Carlos D’Anda’s Batman: Arkham City (DC Comics, 2011; Gr 10 Up) provides a graphic-novel lead-in to the eponymous game (Warner Bros., 2011). It’s been a year since Gotham’s Arkham Asylum was destroyed, and the city’s psychopaths are running rampant. The newly installed Mayor Sharp declares a state of emergency and puts a shocking plan into effect, walling off a large part of Gotham to create Arkham City, an area where the most feared criminals and violent nutcases—the Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, and more—are left to freely roam the streets. Realizing that this hotbed of felonious activity will be impossible to contain, Batman infiltrates the lawless zone and comes face-to-face with familiar foes. Meanwhile, the enigmatic Dr. Hugo Strange emerges as the true force behind Arkham City. Terse scripting and punch-swinging, bullets-flying artwork show off the square-jawed Caped Crusader and his malevolent adversaries at their justice-seeking/evil-doing best.

Arkham UnhingedBoth criminal antics and heroic acts continue in the graphic-novel series, Batman: Arkham Unhinged (DC Comics; Gr 10 Up) as the inhabitants of the prison city jockey for power within the walls, Dr. Strange pulls strings from behind the scenes, and Batman continues to fight for right. Starring the characters featured in the game, stand-alone vignettes delve into illuminating back stories, offer up origin tales, and prove opportunity for recountings of the violent escapades of villains left to their own devices in a world gone mad. In these frenetic pages, Penguin ponders the roots of his bitter feud with the Joker (Vol. 1); the razor-toothed, Killer Croc, now trawling the sewers of Arkham City for (human) prey, describes a past filled with suffering, abuse, and a brief moment of acceptance (Vol. 2); and the Joker appears before a kangaroo court (presided over and prosecuted by Two-Face) to answer for his transgressions (Vol. 3). Executed in a variety of styles, the artwork depicts seedy shadow-filled settings, hyperbolic villains, and often vicious misdeeds of this darkly imagined realm.

Book Tie-ins: EVE Online and DUST 514

Gamers8Launched by CCP Games in 2003, the scintillating sci-fi world of EVE Online, a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), continues to thrive, evolve, and rivet “capsuleers” (subscribers). EVE: Source (Dark Horse, 2014; Gr 10 Up) offers a comprehensive look at the immense and intricately detailed universe also featured in sister game DUST 514. Told from an in-world perspective, the narrative incorporates a vast amount of lore to describe a variety of topics: the origins of New Eden (long-ago human colonists traveled through a wormhole, were left stranded when it collapsed, and evolved through millennia from the Dark Ages of barebones survival to technological and political rebirth); vital technologies (including star gate transportation and recent advances in cloning and hydrostatic capsule know-how that allow capsuleers to remain essentially immortal); thorough overviews of the major empires (history, political systems, religion, culture, important figures, etc.); and summations of powerful bands of marauders. Full-color artwork offers views of the characters and settings, and story-style segments immerse readers in the book’s you-are-there tone. The challenging vocabulary and terminology add to the sense of realism, but make the text more appropriate for confident readers.

Get in the Game: Novels

Game SlavesGard Skinner transports readers into the gaming platform and the mind of the adversary they typically face on the other side of the console—an NPC (non-player character). Game Slaves (Houghton Harcourt, 2004; Gr 9 Up) is narrated from the point of view Phoenix, leader of the “…biggest, baddest group of kickass NPC AI [artificial intelligence] mother-crushers that ever played game.” Fully aware that they consist of code, the tough-as-nails members of Team Phoenix can be deployed across variety of BlackStar platforms to take on bad-guy roles, where their ability to strategize and adapt makes for the ultimate playing experience (and results in huge profits for the company). However, when Dakota, his newest recruit, raises questions about their essence (why would an AI remember swimming in a lake?), the squad is launched into their most challenging mission yet, one that reveals startling truths and raises heart-wrenching questions. Game-inspired action and sensibilities are deftly balanced with thoughtfully presented sci-fi themes, characters that grow as their reality expands, and page-turning suspense.

Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways to FlyWhether dare-deviling on his dirt bike or piloting a drone to its most perilous limits while playing his favorite video game, 17-year-old Arlo Santiago is a self-admitted adrenaline junkie. In fact, enmeshing himself in heart-pounding danger seems the best way to escape the confines of his rural New Mexico home and the recent tragedies that have plagued his family—his mother’s unexpected death, his sister’s ever-worsening Huntington’s disease, and his father’s descent into drinking and debt. As events unfold, Arlo’s abilities truly allow him to soar: not only is he recruited by the U.S. government to fly real drones over Pakistan to gather intelligence pinpointing the location of an infamous terrorist, but a reality show has also offered him big bucks to pull off a mind-bogglingly hazardous dirt bike stunt. Tough choices and risk-taking chances abound, as Arlo struggles to find equilibrium in his life and in his heart. With writing that ranges from ballsy and brash to breathtakingly lyrical, Conrad Wesselhoeft’s Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly (Houghton Harcourt, 2014; Gr 9 Up) resounds with thrilling action, a vividly depicted setting, and a cast of skillfully sculpted characters.

Guy in Real LifeSteve Brezenoff’s adorably charming tale of star-crossed love takes the role-playing game experience to whole new level. The action opens late one night in Saint Paul, MN, where high school sophomore and metalhead Lesh Tungsten collides with artsy outsider and senior Svetlana Allegheny on the street. He just can’t stop thinking about her, and his obsession leads him to create an avatar for the fantasy-themed MMO game he plays online—a sexy elf he dubs Svvetlana (a character he would much rather play than his other choice, a burly—and male—orc called Kugnar). Meanwhile, the real Svetlana strikes up a friendship with Lesh at school, encouraging him to join her Dungeon & Dragons-type club (they need one more member to retain their extracurricular status). Despite their differences in personality, uneasy friendship gradually blossoms into blushing mutual attraction, but obstacles loom in both the real and digital worlds. Chapters are told from the alternating perspectives of the two protagonists, as well as the viewpoints of several in-game characters, showing off Brezenoff knack for creating distinctive and believable narrative voices. Infused with humor and sweet romance, dabbling in themes of gender stereotypes and self-realization, Guy in Real Life (HarperCollins, 2014; Gr 9 Up) is a fresh and unique love story.

Publication Information

BREZENOFF, Steve. Guy in Real Life. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-226683-5; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-226685-9.

DINI, Paul. Batman: Arkham City. illus. by Carlos D’Anda. DC Comics. 2011. Tr $22.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-3255-9; pap. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-3493-5.

FRIDOLFS, Derek. Batman: Arkham Unhinged Volume 1. illus. by Mike S. Miller, et al. DC Comics. 2013. Tr $22.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-3749-3; pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-4018-9.

_____. Batman: Arkham Unhinged Volume 2. illus. by Jorge Jimenez, et al. DC Comics. 2013. Tr $22.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-4019-6; pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-4283-1.

_____. Batman: Arkham Unhinged Volume 3. illus. by Mico Suayan, et al. DC Comics. 2013. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-4305-0.

EVE: Source. Dark Horse, dist. by Diamond Book. 2014. Tr $39.99. ISBN 978-1-61655-271-8.

MCVITTIE, Andy. The Art of Watch Dogs. Titan. 2014. Tr $29.99. ISBN 9781781169001.

_____. The Art of Titanfall. Titan. 2014. Tr $34.95. ISBN 9781783291946.

The Art of Plants vs. Zombies. Dark Horse, dist. by Diamond Book. 2014. Tr $9.99. ISBN 978-1-61655-331-9.

SKINNER, Gard. Game Slaves. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-97259-6; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-99346-1.

TOBIN, Paul. Plants vs. Zombies: Lawnmageddon. illus. by Ron Chan. Dark Horse, dist. by Diamond Book Distributors. 2013. Tr $9.99. ISBN 978-1-61655-192-6.

TAYLOR, Tom. Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 1. illus. by Jheremy Raapack, et al. DC Comics. 2013. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-4500-9; pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-4843-7.

_____. Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 2. illus. by Mike S. Miller, et al. DC Comics. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-4601-3.

WESSELHOEFT, Conrad. Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-544-23269-3; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-544-28965-9.


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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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  1. I apologize if this treads too closely to spam or solicitation, but I wanted to post a heads-up to those who might be interested in the books on this list. On July 24 (2014), the Kindle version of my video game-themed novel, Double Jump, will be made free to download on Amazon for that day. I invite gamer readers to “score” a free copy that day.