Bit By Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World

Basic Books

From Tennis for Two (1958) to Minecraft and beyond, video games offer us experiences that cannot be found in any other medium. In this witty, searching book, Ervin explains the power of games, and why their reign will be long.

In Bit by Bit, Andrew Ervin sets out to understand the explosive popularity of video games. He travels to government laboratories, junk shops, and arcades. He interviews scientists and game designers, both old and young, famous and less so. In charting the material and technological and business history of video games, from the 1950s to the present, he suggests that their appeal starts with the sense of creativity they instill in gamers. And as Ervin reveals, the best games, in building on longstanding traditions of narrative storytelling and pictorial representation, rise to the level of art.

“Not many books about video games allow Denis Johnson to rub shoulders with Monkey Island or Vladimir Nabokov with Peter Molyneux. Ervin’s taste in games is excellent, his points are thought-provoking, and his cultural omnivorousness (take note, aspiring game journalists) is thrilling. A terrific book.”
—Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

A fun and insightful analysis of the cultural, educational, and historical value of video games. Ervin deftly traces the evolution of our most interactive art form from Adventure to Minecraft, while offering riveting first-hand accounts from many of the men and women who made it all happen. Bit by Bit is an essential addition to every video game lover’s library.”
—Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One

“Believe it or not, all those hours playing Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog really meant something. Andrew Ervin takes a brilliant look at the effects of those games – which did not, in fact, rot our brains.”
—Rolling Stone


  • sellers-amazon
  • sellers-ib

“Andrew Ervin is obsessed with gaming’s bigger questions … Bit by Bit works best in its critical and historical modes. Ervin brings in theories and evaluations from Aristotle, Adorno and Elizabeth Bishop, among many others, but these citations never feel stuffy or showy. He’s even better on gaming’s history — on how 1958’s “Tennis for Two” was shaped by the fears and technology of World War II, or how 1962’s “Spacewar!” was shaped by those of the Cold War … Again and again, he uncorks connections and analogies that span centuries and art forms.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Ervin, a novelist, brings a literary sensibility to his study of the medium. … For me, the book’s key statement is this: ‘Today, if there is in fact a distinction between mass entertainment and the fine arts, it gets complicated more effectively by video games than any other medium.’ Bit by Bit plumbs these complications with welcomed intelligence. Ervin makes an affable guide through the history of the medium.”
—Washington Post

Bit by Bit is an urbane, witty, passionate, and eminently literate history of video games from their infancy in the 1950s to today, when they have become so entrenched in the social consciousness that references to Halo and World of Warcraft are part of the common parlance. […] Above all, Bit By Bit celebrates the artistic achievement and creative power of game-makers.”
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Andrew Ervin slaloms through their cultural and technological history, from physicist William Higginbotham’s 1958 analog simulation Tennis for Two to Atari classics, arcade stalwart Pac-Man and the Warcraft franchise. […] A vivid foray into alternative worlds.”

Bit by Bit is the perfect video game book: it’s part gamers’ history, part history of games, and by a writer inclined to philosophical insight and literary reference. Extra hearts for a history that actually includes the contributions of women, too!”
—Amber Sparks, author of The Unfinished World

“Like spaceships or skyscrapers, video games are a collaboration of humans and machines, of art and commerce. One part flesh, one part metal, one part markets, one part truth. Andrew Ervin composes a winsome but measured portrait of games from all these pieces, bit by bit.”
—Ian Bogost, author of How to Talk about Videogames

Bit by Bit provides a fascinating exploration of the world of video games, their history and importance to modern culture. […] The task, Ervin, argues, is to negotiate our simultaneous selves — the real identities and the digital representations — and to switch between them with grace and decency.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Andrew Ervin’s Bit by Bit offers a brisk, thoughtful tour of video game history. Ervin is an ideal guide. … In general, Ervin enjoys video games most when the storyline and the game mechanics reinforce one another, and he’d rather be surprised and delighted than kill zombies. … Bit by Bit might persuade holdouts just how awesome video games are.”
Games World of Puzzles

“Ervin makes it a point to introduce as many view points from underrepresented populations as possible. There are many female critics, game developers and players interviewed and quoted in Bit by Bit. […] An engrossing and necessary read.”
Electric Literature

“In a contemplative ode to electronic entertainment, Ervin ventures into the world of video and computer games … His affection for the subject is obvious. … [I]t’s a personal journey that speaks volumes on how video games have grown, evolved, and multiplied to fill myriad roles over the years.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“From the charming position of a newly minted old fuddy duddy, Ervin describes his encounters with the most significant video game creators and their games, explaining their contributions to the genre. … A thoughtful, personal, and enlightening look at the past, present, and future of video games.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“It’s unusual for a history of video games to feature multiple quotes from Rilke, references to philosophy and Zen Buddhism, and comparisons to great works of art. But that’s exactly what Ervin serves up to support his compelling argument: video games can be art.”

“Overall Bit by Bit is a great examination of the history of video games and the important role they’ve had in the lives of millions, they way they regularly defy convention and definition, and the way (regardless of the critics who vehemently argue and debate) video games are considered Art.”
Book People