The best gaming books 2021: the video game books you need to read

Dip into the best gaming books for exciting novelisations, behind-the-scene investigations, and entertaining histories

Gaming books an arcade machine

Looking for the best gaming books to read in 2021? Your bookshelf won’t be empty for long. There’s plenty of fantastic gaming literature out there, catering to every kind of reader. Whether you’re after a light read about your favourite hobby, or want to dive deep into the biggest games, you can find it all in a good gaming book.

We’ve compiled this list of the best gaming books that you should read, and have cast a wide net in our selection. Spanning gaming novels, behind-the-scenes investigations of game development, entertaining histories of the industry, and bundles of development material, we don’t think you’ll be left wanting if you pick up these gems.

And once you’re done with them, you get a lovely new piece of merch to proudly display in your home, loudly signalling to anyone who enters that you don’t merely play games, but you gosh darn read about them too. It’s difficult to get any more intellectual than that.

These are the best gaming books of 2021:

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The Witcher

You’ve probably played The Witcher videogames, watched Henry Cavill’s grizzled jawline on your television, and might be excited about its next board game adaptation, but have you read the original books? What has become the biggest fantasy phenomenon since Game of Thrones all started with Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels. Fortunately, they still hold up, and touch on similar themes of moral ambiguity, political intrigue, and classic monster-hunting action that we’ve come to love from their adaptations.

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To get started, we recommend The Last Wish. One of the short story collections that kicked off The Witcher books, it provides an accessible taster to the series while introducing the world of the Continent, its creatures, and the backstories of the series’ recurring characters. Plus, it’s a slim read, so won’t eat up too much of your time if you find that you prefer CD Projekt Red’s interpretation of the franchise over Sapkowski’s.

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The Skyrim Library

Gaming art books aren’t just for coffee tables, they provide fantastic insights into the creative processes behind game development, while presenting your favourite games in ways you’ve never seen before. At the top of the pile is the Skyrim Library. This thick tome collects various concept art and sketches produced during Skyrim’s development, and could reasonably be labelled the comprehensive compendium of all things artistically related to the game.

It’s not only chock-full of beautiful pictures, though. Each book (there are three in the collection) contains reams of extended lore explainers, beautiful maps, and exciting historical descriptions of the world of Tamriel. For diehard Skyrim fans, or fantasy lovers who appreciate the realisation of incredible make-believe worlds, this is a must.

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Blood, Sweat and Pixels

An honest, blunt, and unforgiving look into the emotional, and often exploitative, development of video games, this book takes you behind the scene of modern game development. Chronicling the creation of some of the biggest games of the last decade, Blood, Sweat and Pixels records the hidden challenges and sheer emotional will that developers face, from their dizzying highs to their desperate lows.

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But Blood, Sweat and Pixels never loses its enthusiasm, nor its focus on what videogames mean to people; both those who play them, and those that make them. Its access is remarkable, and its revelations eye-opening. You’ll be left with a newfound appreciation for the publishing disputes, financial hurdles, and creative differences that hallmark game development, alongside an appreciation for those who willingly subject themselves to its excitement and hell.

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Playing at the World

A rigorous study into the history of tabletop games, Playing at the World documents the origins of tabletop RPGs. Tracing the genre’s history from the wargames of the 18th century to the dawn of D&D and contemporary roleplaying, this book is focussed, enlightening, and meticulously researched. Some passages can verge on the academic, so prepare yourself for a few dry sections, but its reliance on a vast survey of primary resources (down to tiny fanmade zines from the 80s) makes it a definitive source on the topic.

A thick book, its contents can be broken into two sections: first, a deep history of D&D, its emergence from wargaming, and its establishment of the concept of tabletop roleplaying; second, the transfusion of those concepts into broader gaming, and their similarities with other hobby spaces. If you’re looking for a historical account of D&D that dives into its contextual place within gaming, this might be the book for you.

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Gamish

An entertaining account of the history of games presented in a beautifully illustrated graphic novel, Gamish is a light read and a joy to dig through. Not only exploring the juggernaut titles of the video game industry but also their surrounding cultural impact, the book functions more like a celebration of gaming, both for what it’s achieved, and what it will go on to do in the future.

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Tracing gaming from the 8-bit era to their modern iteration, while leaping between casual titles such as The Sims to indie breakthroughs like Papers Please, it’s a comprehensive account, if one that will include few surprises for those who know their gaming history. A brief read, Gamish doesn’t contain any revelations, but its insights are pinpoint accurate, and its gorgeous, pastel-coloured illustrations make the whole journey that bit more engrossing.

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