Push Start: The Art of Video Games

by Andy Polaine on December 3, 2014

in 2D, Editor's Picks, Interactive, Motion

Push Start Front Banderole

Review by Andy Polaine

I grew up with video and computer games. When I was a young child, I remember my father coming home from the pub telling me about the fantastic game he had played there. He described it as a TV mounted in a box with a knob you could rotate in order to control a ball in a kind of tennis game. The game was Pong, of course.

Prinztronic tournament colour programmable 2000

It seems like only yesterday…

A couple of Christmases later in the late 70s the “family present” was a Prinztronic Tournament Colour Programmable 2000 Console, that my father had clearly bought because wanted to play it and having two boys was a great excuse to buy the thing. This was swiftly followed by the classic Atari 2600 console. I have fond memories of going to the amusement arcades in England—usually on seaside piers—and whiling away an afternoon and a pocket full of 10 pence coins with my best friend, Will, hopping from one game to another. Time and technology moved on and while we ate through our coins failing to get through Dragon’s Lair, my dad tended to spend the whole time still playing Breakout–retro, even then. His tenacity developed quite a on ability and he could manage 30 minute games on a single credit.

These days I have a young daughter and no free time to sit and play the latest games—our games are made of cardboard. But I’m looking forward to the time I can find an excuse to buy a Playstation, oh I don’t know, six or seven by then probably, and be regularly bested by her skills. Meanwhile my father, now 75, carries on the tradition, regularly thrashing teenage competitors online on his PS3.

Super Mario

Look at those gorgeous Nintendo pixels

If the above resonates with your memories, then Push Start: The Art of Video Games published by earBOOKS is for you. It’s a magnificent tome, EP-sized (around 11 inches square) comprising 380 pages filled with 200 images that provide a visual history of video games. Stephan Günzel, Professor of media theory at the Berlin Technical Art School, compiled the book and wrote a short essay in the back along with evocative chapter introductions:

“Kids poured into amusement arcades in the endless night, diving into the cyberspace world. When SPACE INVADERS appeared in Japan in 1978, 100 yen coins were soon in short supply. During the Cold War, whole generations were transfixed by science fiction space battle fantasies. In video games like GALAGA, TEMPEST (1981) and STAR WARS (1983) in particular, these visions became (virtually) real.”

The main essay serves as a light introduction to the field, but it is not a comprehensive analysis or history. For that, try some of Prof. Günzel’s other publications, the Center for Computer Game Research where he was coordinator, or the Digital Games Research Association. But I’m thankful for this, because I don’t really think this is the intention of this book. Academia writes a lot about video game theory, but the images are often lousy. Push Start fills a gap that most other histories of videogames have failed to do, which is to lushly, visually document the medium. As the blurb rightly says,

“This comprehensive compendium traces the graphic evolution from early games through the golden era of arcade gaming all the way to current HD masterpieces.”

Push Start is the videogame equivalent of a coffee table book of movie stills, photography or an artist’s monograph.

Although Push Start is a coffee table book, the extra value is that it is also a turntable book. earBOOKS specialise in creating books that also have an audio accompaniment, such as The Vintage & Classic Style Guide we reviewed last year. The reason why the book has a 11-inch format is because there is a neon yellow, 10-inch vinyl record in the back with the soundtracks to several games remixed by Big Twice.

Push Start Vinyl

Meta retro – vinyl of remixes of video game soundtracks

There is something strangely meta-retro about all of this. I almost expect Lady Gaga to start singing at any moment it’s so post-Postmodern. If, like me, you no longer own a turntable, you also get a code to download the MP3s, which older readers may also remember. The kids these days listen to their music on YouTube, which is lucky, since you can also find some examples of them on the earBOOKS channel.

Pushstart atari

The graphic genius of Atari

The book is beautifully printed and really feels like a chunk of nostalgia in your hands. One of the aspects I really liked about it was that the low-resolution pixel artwork has not simply been printed tiny, but blown up in all its pixel glory and extremely clean. Seeing those chunky Atari 2600 graphics or the 8-bit glory of Street Fighter blown up to full-page spreads makes the reader appreciate the graphic abilities of those artists who evoked so much with so little.

Pushstart streetfighter


This journey through resolution history also has a strange side effect. The early games look graphic and abstract, but as the resolution increases and there is a trend towards realistic 3D rendering, the dithering and pixels on texture maps start to ruin the illusion. It is only once we head back into HD territory with PS4/Xbox One games that the illusion is complete again. It is the resolution equivalent of the uncanny valley.

Assasin's Creed

As games started to go for realism, the pixels started to show

Pushstart infamous

But the era of HD games has made them disappear again

Push Start is a visual feast with a great dollop of nostalgia sauce on top. If you are into video games, you should buy this book. If you know someone who is—or was—into video games, it is the perfect Christmas gift.

Push Start is published by earBOOKS and is dual-language in English and German. If you found this review helpful and would like to support The Designer’s Review of Books, buying Push Start from Amazon.com gives us a small kickback to keep the site running.

About the reviewer

Andy Polaine is a service and interaction design consultant, writer, educator. He is the founder and Editor of The Designer’s Review of Books and co-authored Service Design: From Insight to Implementation. Andy can be found online at polaine.com and tweets as @apolaine.

A Logo for London

A Logo For London cover image

Review by Paul A. Ranogajec London Transport’s logo—known as the roundel, circle and bar, or bulls-eye—easily counts as one of the most successful graphic designs of all time. It has been a constant and increasingly ubiquitous feature of London’s streetscape for over a century. In his book, A Logo for London, David Lawrence describes the […]

Read the full article →

The Book of Trees

Book of Trees cover

Review by Rebecca Kohn In the preface to The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge, author Manuel Lima says that he “could never find a wide-ranging book dedicated to the tree as one of the most popular, captivating, and widespread visual archetypes,” citing this as his motivation to create this book. Lima provides an […]

Read the full article →

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Review by Paul A. Ranogajec Everything that may be conjured in your mind by the phrase “Finnish design” is likely to be represented one way or another in Out of the Blue, a collection of biographical vignettes and interviews by Marko Ahtisaari and Laura Houseley. Through its short profiles, the reader is offered insight into […]

Read the full article →

Type on Screen: 5 Questions with the Author

Thumbnail image for Type on Screen: 5 Questions with the Author

As a design educator, I find that there is a constant uphill battle to get students an ever increasing amount of information in a continually shrinking amount of time. Ellen Lupton’s previous books, including Thinking With Type and Graphic Design: The New Basics, have proven invaluable resources in this continued endeavor. Her latest book Type […]

Read the full article →

Philip Grushkin: A Designer’s Archive

Review by Sophia Angelis Philip Grushkin, the long-forgotten but latterly-celebrated book jacket designer, was born to Jewish-Russian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, in 1921. Trained at the Cooper Union, Grushkin studied calligraphy and lettering under the great George Salter before going on to design jackets for many of New York’s leading publishing houses. His designs […]

Read the full article →

Critiqued: 5 Questions with the Author

Thumbnail image for Critiqued: 5 Questions with the Author

When fellow Designers Review of Books author Christina Beard contacted me about her new book I was of course very interested to see what one of our own had come up with. The book she has produced however, Critiqued: Inside the Minds of 23 Leaders in Design, was a much more impressive undertaking than I […]

Read the full article →

Confessions of a Generalist

Thumbnail image for Confessions of a Generalist

Thoughtfully designed, and encased in a conceptual cover that exhibits the interwoven intricacies of human involvement and existence, Confessions of a Generalist  is an all-encompassing tale of the magnificent life and times of the renowned American industrial designer, Niels Diffrient. Beginning with his humble roots, Mr. Diffrient walks us through his life’s journey, starting as […]

Read the full article →

Graphic Icons: 5 Questions with the Author

Thumbnail image for Graphic Icons: 5 Questions with the Author

As the creator of the site Design Is History, I have a particular interest in the history of graphic design. It was with that interest in mind that I jumped at the chance to interview John Clifford, author of the new design history title Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Design, about his catalog of […]

Read the full article →

Ken Garland: Structure and Substance—review and interview

Ken Garland

The smell of Cow Gum rubber cement and the fascination of stacked Letraset trays form a large part of my childhood memories of afternoons spent at my father’s graphic design and advertising agency. The bookshelves were also a place of wonder for me. I would leaf through Graphis annuals, reference books and other monographs and […]

Read the full article →