Title  : The First Quarter: A 25-year History of Video Games
Author  : Steven L. Kent
Length  : 466 pages
MSRP  : $21.95
ISBN  : 097047550
Release date  : Nov 1 2000
Publisher  : BWD Press
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Video games have traveled a long and winding road, from being a fad more than two decades ago, to today's industry that rivals Hollywood. 

The First Quarter: A 25-year History of Video Games, by MSNBC writer Steven L. Kent, is the latest book to detail the history of electronic entertainment. This book is currently an exclusive to the online store Amazon.com

Despite the title, The First Quarter is more than a 25-year history. Video games have their history in pinball, which originated in 1927. Games as we know them today were invented in the Sixties, in the forms of Space War and Pong. 

The book's early history of modern video games is likely to have the most appeal. Today's generation of gamers scarcely, if at all, remember the market crash of the early Eighties, when Mattel, Coleco, and Atari waged war. Kent's history includes these events, and continues to as recently as the Japanese launch of the PlayStation 2, in March 2000. 

In researching this book, Kent conducted over 500 interviews, producing material that's not going to waste. About two paragraphs per page are block quotes from industry luminaries. These direct quotes show readers some of the industry's most memorable moments from the perspective of the people who created them, and provide interesting anecdotes. At the same time, Kent gets away with writing only two-thirds of the book. 

Unlike some video game books, the author doesn't inject much of his own voice into this history, instead presenting it more as factual data. Hardcore gamers will eat up these facts like Pac-Man gobbles power pills, but casual readers will sometimes get bogged down in so much data. 

The lack of voice contributes to Kent failing to present himself as very knowledgeable about video games, or at least passionate about them. In Joystick Nation, J.C. Herz discusses the various periods and issues of the gaming industry with so much attitude, there's never any wonder that there's a person behind all those words. She's a likely candidate to become a character in Tekken. In The First Quarter, Kent is hidden in an impartial chronology.. 

This distancing isn't helped by any number of errors; Kent seems to have forgone the editing process to get the book released for the holiday season. Typos and other mistakes can be found on average once every four pages. Some errors are as small as extraneous punctuations. More serious blunders confuse names, such as referring to the graphics technique of "mitt-mapping" (it's mip-mapping) or attributing a quote to "David Rosen, Founder of Nintendo" (Rosen founded Sega). 

The First Quarter falls just short of being an excellent resource by lacking an index. Video games are an industry where names, places, and dates can recur through the years, and one person can work for Sony, Sega, and Nintendo. A reference is essential to, yet missing from, a book that attempts to cover such a broad market. 

There are several books that focus their chronology on more specific aspects of the industry. David Sheff's Game Over: Press Start To Continue details Nintendo's rise to power. Its added detail gives a better sense of atmosphere and feel for the actors. Revolutionaries at Sony, by Reiji Asakura, is about the making of the Sony PlayStation, and especially Ken Kutaragi, vice president of Sony. 

The First Quarter is an excellent record of the many steps, small and large, video games have taken, especially in the last 25 years. There's so much information that every reader is bound to learn something new. Other video game books are more specific, detailed, and edited, but few encompass as much as Kent's book. 

Editor's Note: This book has been revised, expanded, and re-released under the name The Ultimate History of Video Games. Its ISBN is 0761536434. 


This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 11-Dec-00