Towards the end of HBO’s gripping miniseries Chernobyl two of the main characters, Soviet chemist Valery Legasov and nuclear physicist Ulana Khomyuk, testify at the trial of three men believed to be responsible. The miniseries is about the 1986 nuclear disaster of the same name. Legasov, played by Jared Harris, makes a rousing speech during his testimony that lands him in hot water with the Soviets. It was a remarkable and satisfying turn for the character, finally speaking the truth – an apparently rare commodity in that part of the world – about what had transpired even if he was assured by the KGB (A Soviet agency akin to the CIA or FBI) that his testimony would be suppressed and he’d be ruined professionally.
Great television, but it never happened. In real life, neither character was at that trial, and Khomyuk isn’t real at all. The general public understands the concept of film and television that are “based on a true story”, a label Chernobyl certain qualifies for. These are stories set during real-world events and might even involve real people, but certain liberties are taken to fill in gaps, punch up drama, etc. We might enjoy and recommend works of this type, but we certainly don’t pass them off as historic documentary or a resource you’d use for a term paper. We treat this stuff as entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to a reasonably well known book about a specific era in videogames, the public doesn’t seem to understand the distinction.
In late September several outlets reported on the 130th anniversary of Nintendo’s founding in 1889. In honor of that milestone, tech blog Engadget published a piece recommending five books about Nintendo’s history. The second book on that list is Console Wars by Blake Harris, which was released in 2014 to positive reviews and enthusiasm from the core game community. Over the years I’ve seen many gamers online and in person extol the virtues of this history book, but there’s one issue I take with the acclaim. It isn’t a book solely constructed by facts and evidence, and because of that, the book is disqualified from the label so many have given it. As the Author’s Note explains, several elements have been “altered” and “imagined.”
I continue to see – as far as I know through no fault of the author or his representation – fans of the book perpetuating this unfortunate characterization, and it needs to stop. If the book had been some tiny indie release largely ignored by the public there might not be a need to address this, but Console Wars is one the best known books about videogames to have been released in some time, if ever. And with a documentary and television series in the works based on this not-history book, it is very possible these versions will be further divorced from the facts. But I could be wrong about both projects, so like any work, keep an open mind until it is released.
So what’s the solution? Label Console Wars for what it is, a book based on a true story. By making that very minor but crucial distinction the public will have an accurate grasp of what Console Wars actually is while halting the potential muddying of the historic record. It’s a fair compromise, one which will keep the book’s fans happy while not forcing game historians into meltdown.
Copyright © 2019 Rob Faraldi. All rights reserved.