Novels about video games often run the risk of being too immersed in the gaming culture to establish a solid story, or they go the other way and become so little about the game that the story never connects.
Austin Grossman’s novel, You, mostly avoids those pitfalls as he weaves a story of a game design company with an interesting backstory. The narrator, a childhood acquaintance of the founders of Black Arts gaming, has come back for a job as a game designer after failed attempts to find a foothold in life. The company is on the edge of ruin, taken over by a investor looking for quick profits, and the company’s glory days are far behind it now, with the death of one its visionary programmers and the exodus of a senior partner.
Oh, and a nasty bug is loose in the game worlds, and it may very well destroy the virtual universe created by the company. Also, through some crafty programming and marketing that led the company to build software for e-trading, the bug may very well precipitate a financial Black Monday on Wall Street, too. These plot points move the book along, and Grossman’s experience in the game design field is evident. But is the human stories told here, of various characters as the narrator, Russell, remembers what it was like to be part of this group of young outcast high school Dreamers who wanted to change the world, and saw their chance with video game design.
There were some scenes when I started to lose the thread, particularly when Russell gets visited by the four archetypes of heroes from the games he is playing (in order to find the bug, which creates sword that destroys everything) and designing (Russell is the lead designer for a new game). But mostly, Grossman keeps the story moving forward, and the enigma of Simon, a character who has died but whose legacy infects everything in the company, the game and the book (including the creation of the bug) is intriguing, and I wish there were more about him. But maybe Simon as a mystery is part of what drives the narrative here.
You works as a novel, and a primer on the inside of a game design company.
Peace (in the pages),