Bingo Review 2: Shelfie
I honestly have no idea how long Press Start to Play has been on my literal TBR shelf, but it’s been a while.
I figured this was as good a reason as any to finally pick it up, especially since I actually broke down and bought a Nintendo Switch Light a few weeks ago. I’ve never been much of a gamer; I didn’t grow up with it really, unless you count the educational stuff like Oregon Trail and Number Munchers. I also remember what must have been some kind of super basic coding game where there’s this turtle and you can write it instructions to draw things or do basic animations. Anybody in elementary school in the late 80s remember this?
Anyways, Press Start to Play is a short story anthology by a wide variety of authors, some known to me as fantasy writers, others apparently well known in the gaming or comic industries but just not familiar to me. Overall, there’s 2 basic story types: Type 1: someone gets into a game, only to discover the game is not what they initially thought (ie there’s an impact on the real world they hadn’t first known about and must confront, etc), and Type 2: a gamer gets stuck in the game somehow and needs to figure out how or if they can escape. Overall, the collection gets a little predictable in this, but most of the stories are still interesting in their own ways.
2 of my favorite 3 stories happen to be by authors I was already somewhat familiar with via other means: “1UP” by Holly Black and “Survival Horror” by Seanan McGuire. The third story I liked was “REAL” by Django Wexler. Both “Survival Horror” and “REAL” have something to do with a game becoming real or trying to control some element of reality with probable sinister intent. “Survival Horror” is set in the author’s InCryptid world, so it helps if you’ve read at least one of those novels, as I thankfully recently had. It was kind of fun to see a little more from characters only briefly mentioned in the main series (as of book 1), and see main characters mentioned only in passing. I liked the first InCryptid novel; it’s kind of junky but entertaining urban fantasy. The short story is two of the younger characters hanging out and getting stuck in a game, and if they don’t solve the puzzles, something bad, Robin Goodfellow, might be released into the real world or they might get stuck in captivity with him. Will they escape, and who set them up? I have to admit, I did not really like Holly Black’s YA novel The Cruel Prince, although I think that might post-date “1UP”. The short story might be my favorite of the book because it’s pretty different in some ways. The basic premise is a group of teen are meeting in real life for the first time at the funeral of one of their online friends, but something is strange, and it turns out the dead friend has set up a gaming challenge for them to help them figure out what happened to him. I really liked the final twist which is a little cliché in terms of whodunit but also a good twist. No spoilers. “REAL” is one of the stories of the game has mysterious impact on real world sorts, but I really did like the twist about exactly what was going on; the big realization/reveal was well set up and it really works nicely. It’s kind of creepy if you think about the implications, but I still liked it.
The one story that didn’t really seem to fit into the above noted patterns was “Respawn” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. It’s not a bad story, but the prologue reframing some Biblical text in gamer context and the actual story about a guy who keeps dying but reviving in different bodies doesn’t really clearly connect with video games. I can see how it’s supposed to, but I just don’t buy it.
Overall, it’s a good collection with some hit and miss for me.