While I play quite a few video games, I am not, from what I understand, a Gamer. I enjoy games mostly for the story they create (KOTOR, Assassin’s Creed, Lotro), for the social elements of playing with friends (Civ, DoD, Counterstrike), or for the puzzles (Portal, Plants vs. Zombies, Logical Journey of the Zoombinis). I know how to play them, but I don’t necessarily know how they work; I can appreciate the graphics, but I don’t know the first thing about rendering. I tell you this so that when I say, on one level I adored YOU and on another I had no clue what anyone was talking about, you’ll understand.
On the basic level, this is a book about making games. There’s a lot of talk about a lot of very technological stuff. There’s even talk about things like marketing and HR. But Grossman’s too smart to try and write a novel that’s all about engines and interfaces. He brings in Russell to tell us the story.
Something of an everyman with a degree in English, Russell understands a great deal more of the lingo his coworkers are using than I do, but, like Rick Castle, he’s really there for the story. All the science, math, and engineering is fascinating and important, but the plot and characters are every bit as essential. All through YOU, the focus remains on story which is something I deeply understand and honestly never considered with my games before. As Russell stares at pixels on the screen and wonders how to reach out to millions of people via what he sees in front of him, I wonder…is that really any different than typing a story or a book review?
But what if you haven’t ever played a single game in your life? If you like science fiction and fantasy, you still need to read this book. Because while it seems to focus on You as a player, it is really about Us, the geeks and nerds of the world. It’s about four high school friends who ate, slept, and dreamed in fantasy and scifi. It’s about how together they made a game which becomes a huge success because it touches something in each gamer and says, “this is really a game about You.” It’s about one of those friends leaving, and another coming back to the game and realizing that the real question in front of him is, how can he possibly make a game about You when he’s forgotten who Me is?
With video game characters making appearances in the real world, a bug in the system that can’t be killed, and one lost gamer looking for all the answers, YOU is a spectacular new gem in the speculative fiction genre. Grossman hit it out of the park with his first novel, Soon I Will be Invincible, and he follows through with this second (and unrelated) novel. I dearly hope we will get to see more books from him in the future.