Go figure: the odds of me getting around to reading a book go up quite a bit when the book is suddenly being offered for free. One of the best things about Difficult Questions About Videogames is that it doesn’t claim absolute authority, to provide final answers to the questions it raises. Editors James Newman and Iain Simons are very upfront about the book being “a record of this moment in time” (17), “this moment” being late 2004. The book presents the results of a survey taken of a few dozen developers, critics, researchers, journalists, and gamers. The questions range from seemingly straightforward ones like “who do you make videogames for?” to abstract navel-gazers like “what is gameplay?” The answers range from one-sentence blurbs to two-page manifestos, and reflect opinions on games from cynical profit-watching to pollyannic optimism.

As a collection of random thoughts, Difficult Questions is great, but as a book, it leaves a lot to be desired. The editors made a conscious decision to avoid doing intrusive things like, y’know, editing. They didn’t bother to fix poor phrasing and grammatical errors in the text; in some cases, the awkward phrasing is intentional, but many of the replies read like hastily-written e-mails (which they undoubtedly were). Even worse, answers are grouped by question, but beyond that, they’re intentionally unordered, even dis-ordered; no attempt is made to help the reader find connections or trends among the responses. While the editors offer introductions to each section that explain what they were trying to get at with their questions, they don’t go to the effort of really looking at the answers and trying to synthesize anything from them.

In their introduction, Newman and Simons defend this hands-off editing style as an attempt to “afford equal weight to each and every answer, each and every contributor, no matter what, no matter who” (16). This seems disingenuous. Nearly all of their contributors are prominent and prolific writers in one form or another — in fact, one of the pleasures to be found in reading the book is noticing how consistent the responses from Gonzalo Frasca or Jeff Minter or Mia Consalvo are with what you’ve come to expect from reading their other writings — so it’s not like they’re giving voice to some neglected, underrepresented subculture here. What does this book provide that we can’t already get by going to the individual respondents’ web sites?

The potential of Difficult Questions — as a book rather than a message board or a blog-meme/chain-letter — lies in the way it brings all these thinkers together in a form that can persist beyond linkrot. With its fragmented, decontextualized style and its resistance to synthetic thought, however, it’s going to be a frustrating book to come back to in five, or 10, or 20 years, when I want to remember what the gaming landscape was like in the mid-00s.