“ Publisher: Smashwords / Published: 15 Mar 2010 „
I've read a couple of Gordon Houghton's books - The Dinner Party and the Apprentice - and found his dark humour very enjoyable. Game Boy is a little bit of a departure from those earlier novels since the tone and humour in the book are a lot lighter. Arguably, this makes it a better, easier read and one that should be accessible to a wider audience (providing you are a gamer - see caveat below)
Game Boy focuses in on four friends who met at university, united by a love of computer games. Now in their forties, they have drifted apart slightly and forged new lives for themselves. However, once a year, they still meet up on four successive weekends to hold a gaming tournament.
For anyone who knows Gordon Houghton's background ,there are large chunks of the narrator character that are at least semi-autobiographical: his upbringing in Blackburn, studying at Oxford and becoming a reviewer (and later editor) of Zzap64!, one of the most renowned and revered computer magazines of all times. Whilst it's obviously hard for the ordinary reader to sort out the semi-autobiographical from the fictional, there is a certain raw truth and honesty about Game Boy that makes it a compelling and fascinating read.
You do need to know an awful lot about games and gaming history to fully appreciate - or even understand - Game Boy. Games are referenced throughout and are an important part of the plot. If you don't know your Mario from your Master Chief, you will spend half the time wondering what on earth Houghton is babbling on about. Even gamers may find themselves floundering at times, and you need an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of gaming history to pick up on all the references. Even myself (who's been a gamer for over 30 years) didn't pick up on all the references. It's going to leave non-gamers completely cold.
Despite this, the author manages to avoid the usual stereotypes. Despite displaying some obsessive tendencies, none of the characters are nerds, geeks or loners. They are all (relatively) normal people with normal relationships - married, divorced etc. Gaming for them is simply a hobby in the same way that other people enjoy gardening or reading - a way to relax and get away from the stresses and strains of their lives.
For gamers this is a book of pure delight. Houghton speaks to us in our own language, confident that we will understand. His own love of games and gaming shines through like a beacon; his passion understandable for his target audience. Similarly, the doubts he sometimes expresses as to whether the accumulation of old games and machines is worth the time and the money is something all collectors can understand and are questions we have all asked ourselves at some point in our gaming lives.
So far, this is beginning to sound a lot like Houghton's other books which focused on the absurdities of life and reflected them back through a dark black humour. Game Boy is a little different and a much easier read than either The Apprentice or The Dinner Party, both of which were quite disturbing and unsettling in parts.
Game Boy is much lighter in tone and the humour is more obvious. I enjoyed Houghton's two previous books and they made me smile and occasionally laugh. Game Boy went one better, making me snort with laughter on multiple occasions, whether because of Houghton's silly sense of humour, his astute observations on the fundamental pointlessness of gaming (or indeed, most hobbies) or simply the funny and snappy conversations between the four friends. It was a lot of fun to read and kept me amused throughout.
Not that Game Boy is a more frivolous novel. It still touches on some darker issues; particularly the idea of getting old, the feeling that one day you suddenly wake up and realise you are no longer 23 and that somehow 20 years has passed in the blink of an eye without any discernible achievements. It focuses on how mundane most people's lives really are and how we try to distract ourselves from that fact by buying things we don't need in an effort to recapture our youth. These themes are not pertinent solely to gaming and anyone who collects anything will be able to identify with Houghton's themes.
In this sense, Game Boy is a surprisingly emotional and poignant book; a reflection on growing old. Once again, it's here that Houghton shows himself to be a skilled writer and novelist. The early parts of the book appear light and care-free, almost superficial. Then, as Houghton starts to reveal more about his characters, their background and their hopes and fears, the book takes a darker turn. New elements are developed and following the lightness of earlier passages, turn out to be surprisingly full of emotion. Houghton is not so crass as to obviously pull on the heart strings in the way that rubbish Hollywood tearjerkers do; instead he does it by stealth. By the time he reveals some of the darker elements of the plot, you are attached to the four friends and don't want anything bad to happen to them. When life deals them a tough hand, you feel for them like they were your own friends.
Whilst Game Boy might be something of a niche book, it will definitely appeal to anyone with an interest in gaming, particularly if that interest was developed in the early years of computer games. For me, it was both a blast from the past and an interesting read. It won't appeal to everyone, but if you understand where it is coming from it is a surprisingly good read.
Game Boy is only available as an e-book. The Kindle edition costs around £2.50 and is worth every penny.
© copyright SWSt 2012