In Michael Kane's fascinating new book Game Boys, video gamer Corey Dodd becomes "Tr1p," Kyle Miller "Ksharp," Vera Knief "Mistress Vera." Welcome to e-sports, in which real players face off through computers and become online celebrities. Welcome to another expression of a world in which the virtual trumps the actual.
Subtitled Professional Videogaming's Rise from the Basement to the Big Time, Kane's surprisingly exciting book is about a rivalry between Craig Levine and his team, 3D, and Jason Lake and his team, CompLexity.
It's a story of contrasts in style and ambition and of the rise of a geek subculture to the front lines of pop culture. It also attests to the street savvy of Fox, the network that gave video gaming a TV platform — and in so doing, may have stumbled upon the hottest new "sport" since Texas hold 'em. In this case, the preferred field of battle is called Counter-Strike, a team effort pitting terrorists against counterterrorists.
In video gaming, Kane suggests, athlete wannabes can feel like real men — and the occasional woman, as in the PMS Clan, an apparently good-looking group that, once on board with the Fox presentation of Computer Gaming Invitational in 2006, didn't protest their use as cheesecake. PMS here stands for Pandora's Mighty Soldiers, by the way.
Being videogenic is key in television, though not so much in video gaming. Being good is at least as important. Take Matt "Warden" Dickens, a little chubby for prime time but an ace in CompLexity. His dad calls him lazy for not being able to change a car tire, but he can strip down and rebuild a computer.
"To Warden, lazy is a relative term. His skills are more technical, more cerebral. His effort is with his mind. His grandfather's and father's generations built the nation. It doesn't need to be built again. Warden's generation is applying their skills to an online world still under construction."
One could argue that the nation does need rebuilding, but that's material for another book. One can't argue that different skills accrue to different generations, and reading Kane's accounts of various competitions, from amateurish regionals to the Fox-DirecTV-sponsored CGI, bespeaks such video gaming prowess that even those who don't indulge will be enthralled.
Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from Cleveland and author of "Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories."