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Critical Hits

Writers Playing Video Games
Author 1
Carmen Maria Machado and J. Robert Lennon
From the earliest computers to the smartphones in our pockets, video games have been on our screens and part of our lives for over fifty years. Critical Hits celebrates this sophisticated medium and considers its lasting impact on our culture and ourselves.
This collection of stylish, passionate, and searching essays opens with an introduction by Carmen Maria Machado, who edited the anthology alongside J. Robert Lennon. In these pages, writer-gamers find solace from illness and grief, test ideas about language, bodies, power, race, and technology, and see their experiences and identities reflected in—or complicated by—the interactive virtual worlds they inhabit. Elissa Washuta immerses herself in The Last of Us during the first summer of the pandemic. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah describes his last goodbye to his father with the help of Disco Elysium. Jamil Jan Kochai remembers being an Afghan American teenager killing Afghan insurgents in Call of Duty. Also included are a comic by MariNaomi about her time as a video game producer; a deep dive into “portal fantasy” movies about video games by Charlie Jane Anders; and new work by Alexander Chee, Hanif Abdurraqib, Larissa Pham, and many more.

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5.5 x 8.25
A wide-ranging anthology of essays exploring one of the most vital art forms on the planet today

About the Author

J. Robert  Lennon
J. Robert Lennon is the author of nine novels, including Subdivision and Broken River, and three story collections, Let Me Think, Pieces for the Left Hand, and See You in Paradise. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
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Carmen Maria Machado
Credit: Art Streiber / AUGUST

Carmen Maria Machado is the author of In the Dream House and Her Body and Other Parties, a finalist for the National Book Award. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she is the writer in residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia with her wife.

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Upcoming Events

J. Robert Lennon, Larissa Pham, and Carmen Maria Machado reading and in conversation about CRITICAL HITS: WRITERS PLAYING VIDEO GAMES as part of Mission Creek Festival at Prairie lights Bookstore

Prairie Lights in Iowa City, IAview map
This event is free and open to the public. Copies of Critical Hits are available for purchase from Prairie Lights Bookstore


  • “In this variety pack of exciting essays, writers make an electric case for the essentiality of video games, both as storytelling aids and as ways of understanding the world. . . . Critical Hits marks the welcome ascendance of an emerging body of gamer literature.”—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire's “Best Books of Fall 2023”
  • “Urgent, intimate, and vulnerable. . . . The contributors to Critical Hits proudly invite us into the highest and lowest moments of their lives, into the physical or digital spaces where they have nursed wounds, basked in victories, and surrendered themselves to something greater than the capitalist imperative for productivity: connection and freedom.”—Jenzo DuQue, Bomb
  • “Insightful. . . . The diverse entries highlight the ways in which the far out plots of video games can change how players understand themselves and the world around them. Gamers with a literary bent should take a look.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “A veritable arcade of essays on the cultural vitality of video games.”—Michelle Hart, Electric Literature's “Most Anticipated LGBTQ+ Books for Fall 2023”
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