While I paged through Ninja’s first book — with its few words sandwiched between high-gloss promotional photos and charts — I got the distinct feeling that I was consuming something from the future. The book, Get Good: My Ultimate Guide to Gaming, is itself gamified; it has a progress bar, for example, near the page numbers that’s akin to the one under most videos online. The text is big and pops, as they say, and the pages are broken up with the kind of interesting graphic design that you used to find inside of books at Urban Outfitters. Scattered throughout are shoutouts to Red Bull, his main sponsor.
As Ninja, the first celebrity gamer, Tyler Blevins has played Fortnite with Drake, made millions of dollars off streaming his gameplay online, and has captivated a global audience in the process. Now, Blevins has released a book that purports to help you be a better gamer — and by extension, a better human — by letting players in on what he’s learned over the course of his surprisingly long and robust career.
While the book doesn’t traffic in specifics, because that’s a very easy way to become unreadably outdated in a matter of years, it is genuinely interested in providing actionable tips that aspiring Ninjas can use to skip ahead a few steps on the long road toward being a professional gamer. That journey, however, is one you have to undertake alone; finding an audience is as much a matter of luck as it is a matter of skill, and no amount of advice (or gadgets) can change that.
After the dedication, the first thing in Get Good is a letter from Blevins that lays out what the book is intended to be: “an encyclopedia, by me, for gamers like us.” Get Good, he says, is meant to be in active use. It’s billed as a reference book, which implies that gaming, like any other academic or otherwise serious pursuit, requires some amount of study.
Blevins positions the book as for everyone from “brand new” gamers to “grizzled veterans” — although, reading through the book, it’s unclear what a veteran gamer might take away from Get Good in the first place. Presumably they already know the reason to get a wired, mechanical keyboard over a wireless membrane one, or aren’t daunted by the idea that practice is different than simply playing. As Patricia Hernandez wrote in her review at Polygon: “As someone who spends time online, much of the book felt like obvious advice. If I want to get better at a game, of course I’m going to review my gameplay to see how I messed up, for example.” The amount of information you can fit into any book has nothing on the breadth and depth of what you can find online. (Depending on the subject, though, whether that information is any good is another matter entirely.)
The main problem with thinking about Get Good as a book is that it isn’t, in the traditional sense, a book: while it is printed and bound in hardcover, it’s more a piece of branded content than it is the form we’ve come to know as literature. This is not in and of itself a bad thing. Blevins is a master at extending his brand, and I came away from the book realizing that, more than anything, is his skill; he’s a great gamer, but he’s a fantastic marketer. Get Good is another way to prolong his time in the sun: it’s well-written, the advice he gives is easy to learn but hard to stick to and master, and it’s clear neither Blevins nor his ghostwriter — the excellent games journalist Will Partin — have created something that feels genuine. (They save the first Sun Tzu reference for a little under halfway through the book, which is a blessing.)
Blevins grew up an hour outside Chicago, with two older brothers and a dad who liked playing video games; he was diligent at school and at work, and started taking games seriously around nine years old, when he first started playing Halo. Around a decade later, in 2009, Blevins would compete in his first professional events for the game Halo 3. He went pro; he streamed on Twitch to a rapidly growing audience; and eventually quit the Halo games for H1Z1, then for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and finally for Fortnite. He’s been able to succeed wildly because he’s mastered what’s in the book, sure, but it’s also because he was in the right place (streaming Fortnite) at the right time (when Fortnite blew up).
Get Good has a lot of good, generic advice for growing as a person — perfect practice makes perfect; being pleasant to be around as a teammate will help you in other areas; set reasonable, achievable goals and you might actually achieve them — that some readers won’t get elsewhere, and that’s commendable. But if you’re looking for a serious resource to help you get better, this isn’t the book for you. Blevins’s path to stardom is singular, as just about every road to fame tends to be, and replicating what he did won’t magically turn you into him.
If you’re a parent, on the other hand, or the kind of person who wrings their hands about what’s happening to Kids These Days, this might be just the thing that reassures you they’re just fine. Blevins, after all, is the mostly squeaky-clean entertainer that kids and parents alike can enjoy; to the public, he’s the face of gaming, and he knows it. Get Good is a dispatch from gamer Mount Olympus, which means it’s for the fans. It’s the kind of object a completist would own, one that signals membership in a tribe. It’s more signifier than signified, more symbol than referent.