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A Good Read for Gamers

‘Lucky Wander Boy,’ A Guy’s Video Game Obsession

By Andrew C. Thomas

Lucky Wander Boy

by D.B. Weiss

Penguin Plume Press

D.B. Weiss knew exactly what he was doing when he sent a copy of his new (and first) novel to The Tech for review. The story of a man whose life is consumed by video games, with deep focus on the classics of the Generation X era on Atari and Intellivision, Weiss’s novel strikes a chord with video game and literature lovers alike.

As a man who once owned a Ms. Pac Man arcade table, I feel a resonance with protagonist Adam Pennyman, whose appreciation for video games has so completely taken over his life that it is as if he sees the world on those terms.

His main life project is The Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments, a guide to video games of old as if they were being examined by a philosopher in an art gallery. His portrayal of Donkey Kong draws upon religious thought, casting plumber Mario as a hero sent by God -- which, depending on your point of view, might actually hold true for Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s chief designer, in some perception of the events that led to Nintendo’s dominance in the video game industry.

Weiss has clearly done his homework -- or possibly put it off in favor of hooking up an old Atari or arcade emulator, spending several quality years in deep study, and several years after that contemplating the meaning of his experience. The work is accessible; he succeeds beautifully in translating the video game experience, making it suitable for arcade junkies and electronic newbies alike.

Weiss’s touch is masterful; he weaves themes common in video games into the story with mastery and subtlety. His sense of parallelism in structure is deliberate, but effective, as he works not only from within, adopting a fictional character’s structural recommendation as the format of the novel itself; but also without, as several elements which would ordinarily be sacred ground (say, for example, a completely linear plot line) are distorted, but still completely reasonable within the rules of Weiss’s world.

The book no doubt holds special relevance to this awaiting audience. Pennyman is an extremely identifiable character who carries with him flaws and strengths common to many students of the Institute -- determination, obsession, pride, and an active imagination. The people around him are equally flawed, though they often take a back seat to Pennyman, as it is certainly him and his obsession that make up the main focus of the book.

Weiss no doubt knows the appreciation that the average student of MIT has for his particular genre -- in fact, he planted a reference to our hallowed halls in the book (in the form of a cyberbabe alumna, no less) -- and many here would likely feel the same way about his opus. I give it my full recommendation; reading it certainly proved cleansing to my soul, as a man who shares some common bonds with Adam Pennyman, more than I’d care to admit. I have little doubt that many others here do as well, and would gain a new perspective on things in the same way.