As one of the uninitiated, the sum total of my knowledge of the world of computer gaming was almost zero before I read this book. Unlike other subcultural substances, computer games are perfectly legal and are available over the counter. However, the cultures surrounding them have largely escaped the gaze of academics - in keeping with common conceptions of youth cultures as operating very much in public spaces.
Step forward Geoff King and Tanya Kryzywinska with a book that is based on an Arts and Humanities Research Board project that offers an alternative to the numerous studies of gangs and pop music that have constituted UK youth culture studies over the years.
An academic book on computer games could take the angle of audiences, consumption, identity-formation or semiotic analysis. Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders does not quite adopt any of these approaches, but it does offer a painstakingly detailed descriptive examination of game culture largely through a close reading of game content.
The idea of the technological advancement of the medium is particularly stressed. The book's title alludes to how things have moved on from pixelated alien-shooting adventures to sophisticated "kick-ass" heroines such as Lara Croft and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Over the book's four chapters, we learn that participating in games is exhilarating, frustrating, challenging, competition-centred, pleasurable and never the same thing as the real-life equivalent.
The authors cite the interactive element as giving games the edge over other popular cultural forms: "Moving around with a keyboard and mouse or the dual control sticks of a joypad is only loosely analogous to the activity of wandering around the world... but it shares some characteristics of the real-world experience. The same cannot be said of watching or reading about a character in a film or a book."
Elsewhere, we learn that violence and law-breaking in games is all the more fun because it is forbidden in everyday life - evidenced in the popularity of Grand Theft Auto . Indeed, the military in many nation-states use simulated computer combat for training purposes as a cost-effective alternative to the real-life version.
The final chapter on socio-cultural dimensions revisits familiar territory.
King and Kryzywinska list different ways in which agency is expressed in game-play including "goal-directed, puzzle-solving, shooting/killing, interacting with weapons, equipment, obstacles or gateways or free-form and paideia-oriented".
There is also discussion about the macho culture and white-facedness of many games and about how neo-heritage games featuring wizards and princesses are particularly attractive in the US, where tradition and monarchy are in short supply.
The book's jacket claims that the work will interest the academic audience and "gamers worldwide". Given the pace of change and search for instant thrills, however, perhaps the latter will eschew this thorough book for doing the activity first-hand.
The authors open the book by making a forceful case for their subject to be taken seriously. Even if their stated aim of ushering in the evolution of a discipline of game studies does not come to fruition, one can only hope that it's not "game over" for this type of study for a long time to come.
Rupa Huq is senior lecturer in sociology, Kingston University.
Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders: Videogame Forms and Contexts
Author - Geoff King and Tanya Kryzywinska
Publisher - Tauris
Pages - 264
Price - £15.99
ISBN - 1 85043 814 5