Brow Beat

Martin Amis on Arcade Games

Via the excellent literary website The Millions we now have more details about the early 1980s gem mentioned on Slate last year by Troy Patterson: Invasion of the Space Invaders, a redundantly titled guide to arcade games written by the masterful English prose stylist Martin Amis. The book, long out of print, can be found used on Amazon for between $70 and $150, depending on the copy’s condition; Mark O’Connell, an academic who lives in Ireland, makes it sound worth every penny.

Here’s Amis on Pac-Man: “Those cute little PacMen with their special nicknames, that dinky signature tune, the dot-munching Lemon that goes whackawhackawhackawhacka: the machine has an air of childish whimsicality.”

And the book is not just an excuse for verbal pyrotechnics; O’Connell notes that it contains “solid gaming advice”—indeed, the pleasure in reading the book, according to O’Connell, is in seeing Amis’s peerless style “applied to what is essentially—or at any rate quickly devolves into—a player’s guide to a range of early arcade games.”

To wit (on Pac-Man again):

Do I take risks in order to gobble up the fruit symbol in the middle of the screen? I do not, and neither should you. Like the fat and harmless saucer in Missile Command (q.v.), the fruit symbol is there simply to tempt you into hubristic sorties. Bag it.

There’s more, including what O’Connell persuasively argues is a cameo from the late Christopher Hitchens (“I was with a friend, a hard-drinking journalist, who had drunk roughly three times as much Calvados as I had drunk the night before”). And the introduction to the book is by none other than Steven Spielberg, whom Amis profiled the same year—1982—Invasion of the Space Invaders was published (it was also the year E.T. hit theaters).

Check out the full piece over at The Millions.