What’s on your bookshelf?: art game maker and level design expert Robert Yang



Image credit: oldbookillustrations.com

Hello reader who is also a reader, and welcome back to Booked For The Week – our regular Sunday chat with a selection of cool industry folks about books! Books obviously come in many different sizes, but did you know that there’s an obscure law that dictates the legal limit for how long a novel can be? It’s measured in ‘George Martins’. If your story is more than three ‘Georges’ wide, you’re swiftly escorted to a cell and made to eat any bits of book that reference more than three characters in a scene with the same surname. This week, it’s developer and writer of the legendarily good Radiator Blog, Robert Yang! Cheers Robert! Mind if we have a nose at your bookshelf?

What are you currently reading?

I moved to New Zealand a few years ago and I’ve been trying to catch-up on local art and theory here. Two weeks ago I stumbled on this book, The Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader which is a collection of kiwi writing about creative technology. Often these kinds of books can be cringe portals, like imagine the “NFT metaverse revolution” book in the $1 trash bin. But this book from 2008, so far, has done a decent job thinking about the future. Just a lot of solid grounded thinking about still-relevant, perhaps even timeless concepts. And even when it doesn’t foresee something like today’s weird zombification of social networks, well, few did in 2008.

What did you last read?

Currently I’m prototyping an unannounced rugby strategy game so I’m also reading a lot of rugby player manuals and coaching guides. The best so far has been Rugby Skills, Tactics And Rules (5th Edition) by John McKittrick and Tony Williams. It’s 50% pictures? I think it might be for jocks. Anyway they write about what they think “good rugby” looks like, the unspoken norms that shape sports more than the official laws. Fans don’t (or can’t) explain it because they breathe it, but newcomers like me need these fish to explain water.

What are you eyeing up next?

I read this fascinating interview ‘Buildings Born Ruins: Philosophy and Architecture After the Apocalypse’ about how the apocalypse is already happening right now, but it’s a “hyperobject” that transcends the horizon of human space-time. It reminds me of a futurist conference I went to 10 years ago, where a bright cheery scientist told me “it’s already too late, we’re working on climate engineering so that 2030 will have options.” So is this what an apocalypse is supposed to feel like? One of the interviewees Lisa Doeland has a book Apocalypsofie but it seems it’s only in Dutch. The other interviewee book is Modern Architecture And Climate: Design Before Air Conditioning by Daniel Barber which sounds more material, about “comfort” and its cousin “survival”, which reminds me of the recent TV series The Curse.

What book do you quote from the most?

Oof. Umm. I quote The Simpsons all the time. Is The Simpsons a book?… I guess the quote in my mind right now is from Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, where one of the characters cries, “What’s the good of an American who isn’t happy? Happiness was all we had.” As an American now living outside of America, I often have to define my Americanness aloud at parties, which is something that’d never happen in America — not because Americans never talk about America (haha) but because I’m Asian and so I’m never quite American enough to Americans. James Baldwin both inspires and scares me — a brilliant gay not-white American who left America so he could try thinking about something else for a change but then sort of ended up thinking about America even more.

What book do you find yourself bothering friends to read?

Metagaming by Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux. They argue video games aren’t games, instead we all play multiple games inside the video game. Some of us story mode, some of us speedrun, some of us hack or mod or shitpost or read wikis… and these are all different games. They expand the gamer concept of the “meta” / “metagame” to encompass everything we do with games. It transforms game development into wedding planning, like this ecological art about nurturing multiple symbiotic habitats existing alongside each other.

What book would you like to see someone adapt to a game?

I re-read Mrs. Dalloway every year or two, it’s probably my favorite book. I do intend to adapt it into a game someday. For those unfamiliar, it’s about all these people in 1920s London and how their lives intersect, and then they all meet at a big party at the end. Structurally it’s like a Wes Anderson movie, but Virginia Woolf would’ve thought Wes Anderson was a total twat. Like usually you read Woolf in school, in a formal way to learn about advanced narration, but that dry approach skips over how cool and funny she is — noclipping between all these assholes so she can no-scope them in the street.

Robert, Robert. You’re telling me you can conceive of a project so delightful as an “ongoing series of experimental video game triptychs about gay stuff,” and yet completely fail to name every book ever written, as is the real goal of this column? Welp, we’ll see how next week’s guest does. And, as always, don’t count your books before they hatch, because then you’ll just have to count them all over again, and that’ll take ages. Book for now!

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Nic Reuben