Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation is a riveting industry expose. Author Blake J. Harris tells the story of the late 80s/early 90s videogame renaissance, and the battle for market dominance between elder statesman Nintendo and impertinent upstart Sega. Harris hinges the narrative on Sega of America’s CEO, Tom Kalinske. Kalinkske himself is a disgraced businessman, once the driving force behind Barbie’s can-do attitude at Mattel. He is recruited to SoA by then-president of Sega Enterprises, Hayao Nakayama. The goal: revitalize Sega in the American market, and beat Nintendo at its own game.
Harris does a terrific job of building tension and character. Even though I knew how the story ended, I found myself rooting for Sega (a fact my husband, a retrogamer and devout Nintendo fanboy, finds difficult to reconcile). I wanted them to sell those million units, as they’re pulling all-nighters and coming up with brilliant marketing strategies seemingly from scratch. I wanted so badly for SoJ’s farm team to win.
We hear from Nintendo’s side as well, but their viewpoint is not as developed as that of SoA. If SoA is the underdog farm team, Nintendo is- what, the Russians? The better-financed team from the other side of the tracks? Maybe this sports analogy is badly developed. At any rate, Kalinske and his team of Bad News Bears find themselves with two foils: in addition to Nintendo, they struggle with their Japanese counterpart. The tension is terrific.
I really enjoyed this book. After I read chapters at a time, my husband would quiz me on trivia I gleaned, and it was nice to chat with him about our common knowledge. For me, those interactions enhanced the experience of reading the book. The story itself is compelling.
I have a few quibbles. The foreword, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is vapid. Don’t even bother reading it, unless you’d like to recreate the last time you watched two dudes talking aimlessly about videogames they played as a kid (I get that all too often in my real life; also, these two dudes have since optioned the book for movie rights). Second, Harris’s attempts to recreate key scenes of dialogue reads a little cringe-worthy. Let’s hope Rogen and Goldberg finesse the lines for the film. Harris also has a habit of projecting warm, fuzzy, soft-focus feelings onto the women in the story (and there are but a few, but that is more an indictment of the industry than of Harris’s storytelling), at one point insinuating that a marketing strategist’s professional efforts resulted in her miscarriage (ew). Only Kalinske, as the story’s protagonist, receives such scrutiny of his personal life.
Console Wars is definitely an enjoyable read, even if one is not necessarily immersed in gaming.
This review has been cross-posted to the Cannonball Read, where I am reviewing books as I attempt to read 52 in a year!