I’ve been obsessed with video games as far back as I can remember. From Atari to the NES and now up to current gen consoles, I think I must have played – and completed – hundreds upon hundreds of games over the decades. Along the way, I also developed an addiction to reading the best books about video games, learning about the history of the still-expanding industry.
So, what are some of the best video game books available? Here are a few of my all-time favorites!
My list of best books about video games (history)
1. Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More
Game On! is easily among the best books about video games I’ve ever read. It’s an impressive spectrum of historical info that details the original releases of Pong, Super Mario, and – more recently – the Uncharted series, among other keystone games.
Author Dustin Hansen also shares lots of interesting lesser-known facts. For example, did you know the makers of Halo 2 consumed more than 24,00 gallons of soda throughout the game’s development cycle? Not exactly essential info – but, hey, fun to know!
Beyond that, Hansen (a games dev himself) traces how each new gen of consoles / video games has built upon the strengths of past ideas. He paints a holistic picture of the industry’s evolution – but also zooms in on specific elements that made certain video games the hits they were.
In short, if you’re looking for the best video game books (for yourself or the kids), you won’t go wrong with Game On!. I found it to be a blast to read from cover to cover, thanks to Hansen’s accessible writing and infectious enthusiasm for the topic.
2. The Comic Book Story of Video Games: The Incredible History of the Electronic Gaming Revolution
If you prefer colorful illustrations over wordy paragraphs, The Comic Book Story of Video Games will definitely check all your boxes.
This full-color book offers a chronological history of the video game industry, charting its days of infancy all the way to the massive juggernaut it is today. Everything is presented in a beautiful comic book style, complete with panels and speech bubbles.
In addition, each chapter focuses on specific video games, machines, and / or industry personalities that have played key roles in expanding the market over generations.
Overall, I personally think The Comic Book Story of Video Games‘s gorgeous aesthetics makes it one of the best video game books around. It’s especially great to introduce to middle-school gamers excited to learn about the history that helped to birth the digital age they were born into.
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3. Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
‘Console wars’ is a buzz-phrase that’s often thrown around in gaming news articles. I believe there’ll always be some war or another between competing console makers. However, in my opinion, the biggest – and most defining – battle was between Sega and Nintendo, back in the day.
In the early 1990s, Nintendo was riding off the highs of its market monopoly, while Sega was barely hanging on. However, the book explores how a small group of Sega team members managed to fight against the odds, defying the status quo with their maverick ways. It’s very much a David and Goliath story.
I especially loved Blake J. Harris’ interviews with Sega and Nintendo employees who were actually around during this epic era. In addition, Harris gives a lot of attention to Tom Kalinske, a colorful personality who, despite knowing very little about video games, played a huge part in transforming Sega into a real industry player.
In short, Console Wars is a must-read if you’re in search of the best books about video games that cover the business side of things, and how ruthless it can be.
4. Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
I loved the recent Doom Eternal! However, if you wanna talk nostalgia, nothing comes close to my youthful feeling of awe when I first booted up the original Doom (on PC). It was irreverent in all the right ways, and truly helped to break the early mold of what was deemed ‘acceptable’ in video games.
That, and parents hated Doom – which made it all the more cooler to own when you’re a kid. Heh.
Masters of Doom takes you behind-the-scenes, shedding historical light on the tag-team of John Carmack and John Romero. Some have referred to this duo as the McCartney / Lennon of the video games industry. I’m inclined to agree. Together, they shook up the business like none other at that time.
In essence, Masters of Doom is a story about the forging of a legendary friendship – which, eventually, broke down as visions diverged and egos grew. You’ll hear many sides of the story as author David Kushner fills in the historical gaps on what Carmack / Romero did so right – and how it all went downhill fast.
5. Replay: The History of Video Games
Donovan provides a bird’s eye view account of the video games industry through the years. It’s a pretty all-encompassing book, covering the usual console wars discussion. However, he also moves into fresh territory, such as his analysis of the rise of mobile apps and gaming.
Out of all the best books about video games, I find Donovan’s release to be one of the most rigorously researched. He presents an engaging mix of interviews and historical facts, gelled together by his own unique opinions.
Overall, I’d recommend Replay to anyone who wants to dive deep into the topic of video game history. Aesthetically, the book is nothing to write home about, composed of mostly words and few pictures. However, there’s so much depth on offer here – which definitely makes it worth your time. Great stuff!
6. The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World
This book is massive! Even better, everything is wonderfully presented via a welcomed balance of words and colorful images. I blazed through this tome in a week!
You’ll learn many interesting video game history facts. For example, did you know that Nolan Bushnell – Atari’s founder – stole the original idea for Pong from Ralph Baer (Magnavox Odyssey)? The two parties eventually settled in court.
One thing though: The Ultimate History of Video Games was published in 2001. So don’t expect coverage of the games that came after that. Plus, a lot of the book is devoted to early-era industry developments , less so on recent milestones. If you’re a big retro gamer, this is perfectly great!
Overall, I regard this release as one of the best video game books ever put out. Clearly, a lot of love and effort was put into crafting this info-rich release. It’s a joy to read!
7. A History of Videogames: In 14 Consoles, 5 Computers, 2 Arcade Cabinets …and an Ocarina of Time
Like The Ultimate History of Video Games, this book covers the historical evolution of video games, starting from the early days. However, being a more recent publication, there’s also newer bits about virtual reality, more recent consoles, and much more.
Moreover, I think tech geeks will especially love the book’s heavy focus on hardware. Beyond just consoles, the authors discuss microchips, joysticks, toys, and other peripherals that have helped to make good games great.
In short, A History of Videogames is a solid addition to my list of best books about video games. It’s detailed, engaging, and well-presented in a way that’ll appeal to both adults and kids alike.
8. Retro Gaming: A Byte-sized History of Video Games – From Atari to Zelda
If you’re looking for something a little less dense, I recommend you check out Retro Gaming. As the book’s full name suggests, it aims to pack in as many little nuggets of historical info as possible.
This is perfect for gamers who prefer a quick snapshot of big industry moments – rather than lengthy paragraphs of too-many-words. There are tons of pictures that’ll joggle your memory of the best retro games ever released – with specific nods to SEGA, Nintendo, and Sony.
Overall, I don’t think Retro Gaming is as good as, say, The Comic Book Story of Video Games – which, in my opinion, offers more info value. However, it’s still easily one of the best video game books showcasing a succinct history of vintage classics.
9. Hardcore Gaming 101 (series)
The really cool thing about Hardcore Gaming 101 is how each book in the series is lovingly themed to specific sub-genres. For example, I especially enjoyed the Retro Horror edition, which shares the backstories of classics like Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Splatterhouse, and so much more. Even better, it’s all printed in full-color!
Other solid editions include Namco Arcade Classics which covers many iconic releases, including Dig Dug (one of my all-time favorites!) There’s also Wrestling with Pixels. As you may have guessed, it’s exclusively focused on the best – and worst – wrestling video games ever made.
In short, I think die-hard gamers will absolutely fall in love with the Hardcore Gaming 101 series. Everything is incredibly well-researched with truly top-notch illustrations. Impressive!
10. The Game Console: A Photographic History from Atari to Xbox
Sometimes, a picture can be worth a thousand words. Such is the case with The Game Console. It brings you on a photographic journey across a staggering 86 consoles. As you’d expect, the book is a joy to flip through, and makes for a great coffee-table piece.
Beyond outer casings, you’ll also get to take a peek at the microchips and other inner components that have fueled some of your favorite old consoles. I myself have never dismantled any of my past systems – so this was really eye-opening!
In short, The Game Console is a gorgeous visual homage to the hardware movers and shakers of the industry. In my opinion, it’s surely one of the best video game books published in recent years.
Other great books on the history of video games
11. An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games
A fantastic book that charts five decades of the most memorable video game releases. Everything is told through words, pictures, trivia, screenshots, and so much more. The entire design of An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games is exceedingly well done, also printed on high quality paper.
I hope they’ll release a newer version soon though – with updated info that goes beyond 2012. Regardless, this is a great book to check out if you’re in search of the best video game books.
12. Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto
The Grand Theft Auto series is among the most successful video game franchises of all-time. It’s undoubtedly one of the most controversial, too. In Jacked, you’ll read the juicy story of the key personalities that elevated GTA to become a household name – and the glorious outcry it spurred.
13. All Your Base Are Belong to Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture
All Your Base Are Belong to Us does miss out in covering some key industry moments. It’s not the most detailed book on this list. However, I enjoyed author Harold Goldberg’s inclusion of games like the King’s Quest and Donkey Kong series – both of which I adore. Overall, I think it’s a good book to read through when you’re done with the others.
14. Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America
If you’re an avid Nintendo fan, Super Mario is a must-read. It charts the global rise of the Japanese company and all the events that led to, and transpired after, the commercial success of the Super Mario franchise.
There’s also tons of engaging biographical info on all the major creatives who made Mario the world’s most famous plumber he is today. An excellent read!
15. The Nostalgia Nerd’s Retro Tech: Computer, Consoles & Games (Tech Classics)
Written by YouTuber Peter Leigh, Retro Tech explores the intense hardware race of past decades that pushed the boundaries of what consoles (and PCs) could deliver.
In short, this is a true love letter to all retro gamers who still adore the classic systems that turned them into life-long fans.
16. Adventure: The Atari 2600 at the Dawn of Console Gaming
Atari fans, rejoice! Adventure brings you all the way back to the time when Atari first brought the arcade experience into millions of living rooms.
However, rather than just regurgitate old facts, author Jamie Lendino takes the effort to contextualize the info he shares to the era in which events occurred. In short, he writes like a bonafide historian! I think this will delight most gamers keen on the best books about video games.
17. Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life
Japan has had a behemoth role in shaping the video game industry throughout decades. With Power-Up, you’ll find out exactly what makes Japanese games so unique, as well as get into the minds of some of the country’s most innovative creators.
18. Vintage Games 2.0: An Insider Look at the Most Influential Games of All Time
Vintage Games 2.0 is a staple among great video game books. It’s filled with hundreds of in-depth interviews with designers, developers, and other creatives. I especially loved the heavy focus on how video games have evolved as a medium for storytelling.
19. A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games
I think Dylan Holmes also does a great job analyzing the storytelling elements of video games. He gives special time to choice-and-consequence type releases, such as Heavy Rain and Planetfall.
There’s also a cool section that looks at how certain long-standing film techniques have inspired video games – and how the latter has striven beyond those standards. Good stuff!