Blake J. Harris’ tale of the rise and fall of Sega is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly frustrating.
It is incredibly fascinating because it gives lots of details on how Sega America was able to make the Genesis as popular but unable to capitalize on that success in the long term.
It is incredibly frustrating because Harris decided to write the book in the form of a narrative and write entire conversations and even thoughts that there really isn’t any way to know if they are based on the memories of people he interviewed, historical documents, or if he just made them up. To be fair, Harris is totally up front about this. In the author’s note in the beginning of the book he writes:
“Console Wars is a narrative account based on information obtained from hundreds of interviews. Re-creating a story of this nature, which draws from the recollections of a multitude of sources, can often lead to inconsistencies; particularly when dealing with industry competitors and especially when dealing with events that took place more than two decades ago. As such, I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the documentary record.”
It also isn’t as if my complain is particularly unique. The New York Times found his reconstructed dialog, “stilted and phony” and noted his use of numerous cliches, “speed is blazing, a woman is doe-eyed, go-getters are scrappy.” The Telegraph also complained about Blake calling a woman “doe-eyed” and wrote:
“Conversations have an eerie, inhuman air: ‘I suppose your jumping to conclusions,’ says one character to another, ‘is a testament to the type of guys we are, and, perhaps, also a sign of the times we live in.’ Other characterisations are sketchy at best: the Japanese people mostly speak in a strangely stilted English (‘OK, then, let us now go on a real vacation’).”
Personally, I didn’t find the dialog particularly bad. I just want to know what people actually said. I wish Harris had just released all the interviews or at the very least had included tons of footnotes (Not endnotes though. Endnotes are evil!(And the Endnote application is even worse!)). Of course releasing the interviews probably wouldn’t have sold as well or gotten optioned for a movie but it would have satisfied me and isn’t that really what is important?
Moving from criticism of the style to discussion of the content, Harris makes a convincing case that the real war wasn’t between Sega and Nintendo so much as it was between Sega of Japan and Sega of America. While the style of the book makes it hard to tell if this is entirely accurate or is jingoism, it is an interesting tale with lots of things that I wasn’t really familiar with as well as a great deal of stuff that I remember seeing as a college student in the early 1990s.
This combination of things I didn’t know anything about and things that I kind of remembered happening made reading the book an interesting experience. Because I was reading it on my Android tablet, I actually spent a lot of time switching back and forth between the book and a web browser looking things up in the attempt to find out more about the people and events. Since finishing Console Wars I have started reading another non-fiction book and find that I am doing the same thing with it. I wonder if the mid-1990s notion of hypertext has been replaced by the ability to just jump from the book to an online text at any point? I found this particularly weird in the other book I have read when it mentioned someone early on and I went online to read a couple articles about that person. Then later in the book when there was a chapter devoted to him I had a hard time deciding if I had already read that chapter or not. However, that says more about me and my attention span than it does about Console Wars.
To get back on topic, despite its flaws, Console Wars is really a must read for anyone interested in the history of Sega and Nintendo in the USA in1990s. The specificity of that recommendation is meant to indicate some of the other flaws of the book because Console Wars doesn’t spend much time discussing what Sega and Nintendo were doing in Europe and only really discusses Japan in comparison to the USA, barely mentions other consoles that were out around that time, and really tapers off before and after the 1990s. Keeping those caveats in mind, Console Wars is really worth reading if you care about the subject mater at all.
Six thumbs up
The shots were fired
Brothers held for questioning
Sonic is missing.