Gamelife

You have been awakened.

Floppy disk inserted, computer turned on, a whirring, and then this sentence, followed by a blinking cursor.  So begins Suspended, the first computer game to obsess seven-year-old Michael, to worm into his head and change his sense of reality. Thirty years later he will write: "Computer games have taught me the things you can't learn from people."
Gamelife is the memoir of a childhood transformed by technology.  Afternoons spent gazing at pixelated maps and mazes train Michael's eyes for the uncanny side of 1980s suburban Illinois.  A game about pirates yields clues to the drama of cafeteria politics and locker-room hazing.  And in the year of his parents' divorce, a spaceflight simulator opens a hole in reality.
In telling the story of his youth through seven computer games, Michael W. Clune captures the part of childhood we live alone.

Read an excerpt in Harper's.

 
  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

"Unconventionally plotted and oddly moving...Gamelife argues that our hidden inner world, 'the part of our lives that wasn't involved with people,' can save us in an outside world that doesn't always make us feel whole." Ethan Gilsdorf, The New York Times Book Review.

"I never played the games Clune devotes most of his attention to, but his voice makes their obsolete rituals come alive: Sometimes he sounds like a thriller writer, sometimes an art critic, sometimes a poet." Christian Lorentzen, Vulture.

"Clune’s memoirs will take over your brain, too, but in the opposite way: they will make you more human, by doubling down on your capacity for empathy, as the best literature tends to do. They will leech compassion from your center and radiate it out though your pores, where you will worry others will see it and stare. These are books you should read if you’re interested in being alive on earth." ~Ian Bogost, LA Review of Books

“Clune’s book shows us just how intimate and intense the engagement with video games can be… The book moves in counterpoint, alternating in short subchapters between interior and exterior, life and game, letting the two halves of Clune’s experience jostle against each other in unexpected ways.”  ~Gabriel Winslow-Yost, The New York Review of Books

"A spectacular accomplishment... Clune addresses his subjects in a transcendent manner. There's no one who writes quite like him." ~Bijan Stephen, The New Republic

"It is Clune's talent as a writer that gives his games their significance and sets them meaningfully into the sweep of his personal history."~Simon Parkin, The New Yorker

"Beyond the brilliant observations that seem to pop up on every page, the scenes of Clune's childhood make for equally compelling reading, dramatically rendered as they are in rich novelistic prose...There are more funny scenes than seems possible in a book of 200 pages." ~Christopher Urban, The Millions

"Gamelife offers a fascinating glimpse of what I suspect – now that virtual experiences are inescapably a part of most upbringings in the developed world – will be the shape of much literature to come." ~Tim Martin, The New Statesman.

"Video games teach Clune, with more honesty than his own social world, the difference between how things appear, and how things are. Numbers, angles, lines of sight; the structure of video games come to structure the world his body inhabits. They offer his imagination an interpretive lens to grapple with the confusion and disorientation of puberty in public school, moving to a new home, and divorce. As Clune describes his real-world experiences alongside the video games he played at the time, he integrates reality and fantasy, interchanging them, even confusing them."~Max Heidelberger, Curator.

"Ultimately, however, the games serve as the framework with which he explores his childhood, not the other way around. The result is an unexpectedly aching exploration of growing up." ~Trevor Levin, The Harvard Crimson.

"Many of the issues that [Gamelife] raises - the plight of the boy at the dawn of the Internet, trying to process suburbia, divorce, and alienation from would-be friends - have wider resonance. Clune never treats games as an escape but rather an entry into a heightened reality, an education, a creative stimulus, and a portal for self-discovery... [a] provocative book. ~Kirkus Review

"Along with his spot-on re-creations of childhood and adolescent conversations, Clune's wry observations about growing up in the 1970s and 1980s amid the burgeoning microcomputer revolution make his gamer memoir a standout." ~Carl Hays Booklist

"Clune's work is an immersive tale of obsession from the virtual frontline." ~ The Australian

"I highly enjoyed Gamelife-a beautiful, delightful, surreal, moving, intellectually shocking, vivid, and thrilling book about numbers and death, magic and despair, dimensions and middle school."  ~Tao Lin, author of Taipei

" Michael W. Clune has written a brilliant and fiercely moving memoir that goes beyond mere nostalgia for the simpler days of MS-DOS. This is a book about human imagination and the ways in which it's nourished; it's about the metaphysics of role-playing, the poetics of 2-D space. Gamelife is a portrait of the artist as a young gamer, and like its predecessor, White Out, the book's ultimate power comes from its author's ability to render the mundane both terrifying and ecstatic through the kaleidoscopic filter of subjective experience." ~ Adam Wilson, author of Flatscreen and What’s Important Is Feeling

" Michael W. Clune's Gamelife captures the wonder of being a child more durably than even the games he writes about. Gamelife is a book about the way games used to be: when demons were nothing more than a vaguely threatening cluster of blocks, and a dystopian future could play out in text alone. Inspired by the book, I downloaded an Apple IIc emulator and loaded up The Bard's Tale for the first time in twenty-five years . . . but it wasn't quite the same. I can replay and reenact by reinstalling-but I could only relive by reading this book." ~Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid and author of Dataclysm

"I steal language and ideas from Michael W. Clune"~Ben Lerner, author of 10:04

"In Gamelife, as in White out, Clune combines banality, fear, and beauty in a way that is both original and disturbingly familiar. His memoirs read like the very best fiction." ~Rae Armantrout, author of Just Saying