Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games

Walt Williams is a successful videogame writer whose projects have included Bioshock, Civilization and Borderlands. Significant Zero is his memoir of the first 10 years he spent in this enormously profitable and high-pressure creative industry, intertwined with his thoughts on where it could go next.

In this story of youthful ambition and arrogance, Williams aligns himself with the stereotype of pudgy, antisocial, white male developers. He maintains a self-destructive total immersion in his work life, subsisting on junk food and minimal sleep, and rarely seeing the sun. "Work brings order to my world. When things get tough, I slide down into my job and disappear. I let my health, relationships, and responsibilities fall to the wayside. When I finally come up for air, there's a smoking crater where my life used to be. Instead of picking up the pieces to start again, I slip back down into the thick of it. This is how I cope." With bitter humor, Williams displays his own missteps over the years, how his overreaches cost him relationships and occasionally won him projects as well. He takes the reader into meetings, conferences and the thrilling horrors of crunch time.

He discusses the psychology of games, and how game writers handle the moral choices they make in building them. Williams believes gamers are ready for greater emotional challenges. "A well-designed moral choice should sear itself into the player's brain, like a hand burnt on a hot stove. Will it cause outrage? Yes. It should." This is an intimate tour of the pressure-cooker world of game development that will appeal to curious gamers and would-be developers alike. --Sara Catterall

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