Monday, August 23, 2010

Rock Paper Tiger: A Gamer's Review

Have you read Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann? I snagged it as an impulse borrow from the library after seeing it mentioned a handful of times on book blogs. I was surprised to find that Brackmann uses an MMO-style universe as part of the story.

Without spoiling it for you, here are a handful of things I liked about the world inside the book: The Sword of Ill Repute, or, the Game.

1. The protagonist plays to connect, not escape. Her friends have a specific virtual space to meet. She doesn't define herself as a gamer; she just happens to play a video game, and she's got quite a bit of life going on outside of the game. And her dirty dishes have nothing to do with gaming.

2. No nerd stigma. That's right, no socially awkward teenagers in sight. No geek jokes. No mention of grandmother's basements. No pwning or 1337 speak. No obsessive player who loses his family/job/house to the keyboard.

3. The protagonist identifies herself with her avatar. She also ponders the avatars of people she has met in real life, coming to a better understanding of them through the way they choose to express themselves in the Game. Granted, in WoW we don't have quite the amount of customization as in the Game, but I appreciate the suggestion that characters can be valid creative expressions.

4. The Game is Chinese, and as such, uses Chinese mythology. The lore is elegant and portrayed thoughtfully, creating a mini-world with depth and culture of its own.

5. Brackmann takes us into the Game without overwhelming non-players. While the protagonist doesn't do anything 'hardcore' like raiding, we are exposed to MMO staples - cool weapons, fearsome monsters, fun items, and adventure. No math or heavy theory. The Game is accessible.

There's room for disagreement that every mention of the Game was positive, and a couple of things that happened around the Game are already controversy in the industry. (And yes, there were a few events that would make for less-than-stellar game mechanics. I'm talking portrayal, not playability here). Still, I was pleased with the treatment. It's downright refreshing to read about an MMO sans nerd stigma.

Rock Paper Tiger is not a book about a MMORPGs. It's a book about international crime and war that features an MMO to connect the characters. As such, it finds a much different audience: readers, not gamers.

How about you - have you read the book? How do you feel about The Sword of Ill Repute as a portrayal of MMOs outside of the gaming industry (or other showings of MMOs in the mainstream)? I've never set up commenting rules or anything like that, but I do ask that we keep this page spoiler-free for those who might still have Rock Paper Tiger on their reading list.


  1. I'm not a gamer, I'm a reader, and I can say I loved ROck Paper Tiger. As a non-gamer, she totally made the gaming world accessible and believable for me, without overwhelming me. Loved it.

  2. I'm not a gamer and have only read part of Rock,Paper,Tiger so far but I'm glad to see another audience open up for Lisa's work. She's an awesome writer and it's nice to know that her work speaks to different people on different levels.

    I enjoyed your review. You wrote with care and understanding of your subject. Good work!

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Kat and Aries! I'm glad to hear some avid readers chime in on the subject.

  4. I loved RPT too. Great book, and the MMO parts were some of my favorite scenes, too. I laughed because the interactions between the gamers were so dead-on! There's so much more going on in the book as well...

  5. I'm a live gamer, which isn't quite the same thing, but I appreciate the whole gaming community and thought Brackmann treated it really well. And I loved the guy getting bent out of shape because a friend stole his magic sword... it really does show how seriously some people DO take the games.

  6. Dana,
    Lesson learned: if I ever wish to steal someone's loot, I'll make sure they can't track me down in real life! =P

  7. Oh, hell, it's probably totally uncool for me to pop in here...but I just wanted to say that I'm really gratified you liked the book. Your point #1, about the Game as a means to connect, is something that was extremely important to me--how do we form communities, when the globalized world we're living in tends to tear apart our real-life Main Streets? How do we express ourselves and connect?

    Online gaming is a big deal in China, particularly as a means of self-expression. You may have already seen this, but something that came out after the book already went to press that expresses this better than I ever could -- a Chinese gamer created a very pointed satire about censorship of WoW in China, using WoW animation -- it's really quite a critique that goes way beyond the censorship of one game, into the whole suppression of information and self-expression, and the struggle to connect in spite of that. The article does a good job of summarizing the video. Check it out.

    Lisa Brackmann