Ephraim man’s book on history of video games receiving accolades
EPHRAIM — An Ephraim man is letting his nerd flag fly with the release of his first book, which chronicles the history of video games.
Dustin Hansen of Ephraim wrote “Game On!: Video Game History from Pong and Pac Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More” drawing on expertise he gained from working more than two decades in the video game industry.
The book was released publically on Tuesday Nov. 15 at a party at the Ephraim Co-Op. It is also available for purchase online and at the Snow College bookstore.
Hansen’s book is already garnering accolades, including being named one of Amazon.com’s “Best Books of the Month” for November.
Leaders in the gaming industry are also taking notice of Hansen’s first book.
“’Game On!’ is the best book on the evolution of gaming I’ve ever read,” Christine Brownwell, game designer for World of Warcraft and The Sims, said. “The way Dustin takes this complex story, breaks it down and makes it fun for young readers is nothing short of genius.”
Hansen said he thinks writing the book was a natural progression in his career. “I guess in a way it was inevitable for me to write this book,” he said. “I literally lived through this era, first as a young gamer, then later as a video game developer.”
He said the opportunity to write the book arose when editor Holly West from Feiwel and Friends, a branch of Macmillan Publishers, approached Hansen’s agent, Gemma Cooper, looking for an author to write a book about video games.
Hansen said his agent knew right away it would be a perfect match, so he made introductions. But, Hansen admitted, he was hesitant in the beginning.
“I immediately loved the idea,” he said, “but it didn’t take off until I met with a group of bright — okay, brilliant — eighth-grade students. They knew more about current games than I did, and the vocabulary they used to describe their gaming experiences was complex and inspiring. They were deep thinkers, they saw way beyond the surface of bright colors and button presses, and sought after meaning and theme. I was blown away.”
Hansen says that the students were speaking a cultural language that didn’t exist when he was their age.
“They spoke fluent gamer, which is amazing, but there was something missing,” Hansen said. “While they were brilliant in their understanding of current games, they didn’t have any exposure to the games that had created that culture. We started talking about how video games of the past influenced the games of tomorrow, and not only were they engaged with the conversation, they wanted to know more.”
That’s when it clicked for him, Hansen said, and he realized writing the book was his responsibility.
“I was the keeper of something very important that these young minds wanted,” Hansen said, “an accounting of how we got here, how the games of today stand on the shoulders of the games of the past.”
Once Hansen set his mind on writing the book, he was faced with the difficult task of deciding which games the book would cover.
“It wasn’t easy, and it still hurts a little when I look at the games that didn’t make the cut,” he said. “I’ll tell you this: Quite a few of my personal favorites were the first to go. Gaming is such a subjective medium. My personal favorite might be one you find boring, or worse, and I knew this was going to be a big issue for me. So I did what I knew best. I approached it like a game designer. I defined a rule set, created a compelling end goal, and tested the list until it felt just right.
“I could write an entire book about the rule set, but in the end, it came down to one unavoidable requirement. The games (covered in the book) had to offer an innovation, idea or mechanic that changed the way we play games or consume media — TV, film, music — forever.”
The people in Hansen’s life made contributions to his writing process. His wife, Jodi, was particularly influential.
“I know, you might think she’s a biased reader, but she’s tough,” Hansen said. “And get this: She hates video games. She is the one who taught me two very important lessons on this book. One, ‘Game On!’ is really about people as much as it is about games, and two, the best way to tell a true story is to be myself. Basically, she told me to let my nerd flag fly, so I did. I knew that if I could get her to honestly love ‘Game On!’ I’d be on the right track.”
Because Hansen followed a career path he is passionate about, he is also passionate about encouraging young people to study what they love and seek a career that inspires them. He said there are many great jobs available for young people who want to work in the gaming industry—and not just for programmers.
“The gaming world needs artists, sculptors, painters, animators and user interface designers,” Hansen said. “It craves writers, tech writers, creative writers, dialog writers and marketing copywriters. It needs mathematicians, physicists, statisticians and accountants. The games industry wouldn’t work without project managers, directors, producers and schedule-making gurus.
“But all of these amazing people have one thing in common: Game developers are visionaries, dreamers and crazy thinkers. It’s what ties them all together.”
Hansen was raised in Ephraim, graduated from Manti High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in art and illustration from Southern Utah University. He began working in the video game industry in 1993.
After paying his dues working with smaller game developers, Hansen got a position at Electronic Arts (EA) as the studio art director for the biggest sports game in American gaming history: “Madden Football.” While at EA, Hansen helped create other classics, including the cult arcade hit “NFL Street.”
Hansen received numerous honors and awards for his work with EA, including EA Salt Lake City’s highest creative honor, the Summit Award, for his work on “Monopoly Hotels,” EA’s only No. 1 worldwide mobile game. He was also a finalist for the Bing Award in 2013.
Hansen has a series of other books, “The Microsaurs,” set to release Jan. 17, 2017.
Hansen’s career has taken him across the country, but he says he has always considered Ephraim to be his true home.
After spending from July 2014 to April 2015 with Hasbro in Providence, R.I., he moved with his wife and four kids back to Ephraim, where, according to a writeup for his book jacket, he gets to live “in the shadows of a fine mountain” and “take long walks with his dog, Rusty.”