Interview: Chris Barton, author

On Monday, I reviewed a new alphabet book, ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!: A GAMER’S ALPHABET, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Joey Spiotto. Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Chris!

Chris Barton head shot
Chris Barton

Chris was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about writing ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE! Read on for the interview:
LT: I have a sort of love-hate relationship with video games. I enjoy playing them, but have to watch my tendency to get obsessive. I suspect my growth is permanently stunted from spending my teen years playing Caverns of Mars on my Atari when I should’ve sleeping. In college, I could spend whole weekends playing Civilization. Now, I struggle not to play too much solitaire, Candy Crush, or Ticket to Ride, and I have to monitor what my kids are playing and how much time they’re spending at it, as well. 
LT: Tell me about your own video gaming experience, past and present. What kinds of games do you like to play? How has your game-playing changed over time? 
CB: Honestly, there’s a lot more to say about my past experience than my present experience — and, even then, there’s not a huge amount. Gaming has never been as big a part of my life as it is in the lives of my kids.
CB: But I do have some vivid memories from when I was growing up: of my great-aunt and -uncle giving my brother and me Pong one Christmas, and of us hooking that up to the black-and-white TV in his room; of celebrating the 12th birthday of my friend Ty (to whom Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! is dedicated) by playing a lot of Ms. Pac-Man at Malibu Grand Prix and then going to see Tron in a theater; of finally moving up from Pong by buying Ty’s Intellivision console, on which I especially loved playing Pitfall!; and of the thrill of playing Spy Hunter at the Aladdin’s Castle arcade whenever I got to go the mall 80 miles from my hometown.
CB: I still really enjoy playing arcade games — that overall sensory experience is a surefire way to bring out the 13-year-old in me. Being big fans of the Beatles, Jenny and our kids and I love playing Beatles Rock Band together on our Wii. And I highly, highly recommend the game Gone Home, a first-person game in which you’re a college student returning from a year abroad only to discover that all sorts of things are not right at the house your family moved into during your time away. Recently I was struggling to remember the name of the YA novel I had read that got me all choked up at the very end, but then I realized it hadn’t been a novel at all. It had been Gone Home.
CB: I would undoubtedly spend more time playing games — and watching TV, and going to the movies — if it weren’t for all these books I’d like to write. I can’t do it all.
LT: Yes! That’s what keeps me off of them, too… most of the time.
LT: What was your favorite part of A!B!CC! to research and/or write?
CB: Oh, it was definitely the page at the end where I use all 26 gaming terms in a single sentence. Figuring out how to do that was not only a fun puzzle to solve, but also a good test of how well I knew my terminology. I suspect that page will also be my favorite part of the book to read aloud, though I’m going to need a bigger set of lungs if I’m ever to get through it in a single breath.
LT: That’s funny–I would’ve expected you to say that was the hardest! It was indeed impressive. What, then, was the hardest part of the book to research and/or write?
CB: “I is for Instance,” by far. The usual suspects in an alphabet book — Q, X, Z — weren’t all that challenging. But “I” had surprisingly few terms that seemed like great candidates, especially since I avoided brand names or names of specific games or characters. I was happy to include “Instance,” as I think it’s an important concept for understanding why your screen isn’t overrun by other avatars when you’re playing a massively multiplayer online game, but getting the definition just right — correct, yet easy to understand — took a lot of effort.
LT: Interesting! It certainly wouldn’t seem like “I” would be one of the tricky letters. I can see how instance would be a tricky one to explain, though, and you’re right about it being an important concept. Great choice!
LT: Were there any surprises along the way?
CB: Sure. I began the project with a desire to show some of the richness and depth and breadth of gaming culture and history. But I was still taken aback by the passion and thoughtfulness and sincerity of other writers, commentators, and gaming professionals who have dedicated themselves to this field far more extensively than I have. And I’ve been especially intrigued by the current parallels between the gaming and children’s literature worlds as both strive to make themselves more diverse and inclusive, to allow more participants and consumers from more backgrounds to take part in these fields and recognize themselves in the work that’s created.
LT: I’ve noticed those parallels, too, and it’s definitely a good thing.  
LT: One last question… I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book?
CB: I’ve got a new appreciation for what a great tool an alphabet book can be for organizing information about a topic, and for exploring a topic beyond what you’re already familiar with. It’s a format that forces you to dig deeply and employ some creative research skills and weigh why one concept might be more important to include than another. I’d recommend that other writers of all ages give it a try. I myself expect that I’ll return to this approach sooner or later.
LT: Great advice! And I look forward to seeing what you do with it next time. 
LT: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Chris. I had a great time, and I wish you the best of luck with ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!

Review: ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE! by Chris Barton

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! coverATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!
written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Joey Spiotto
published by POW! Kids Books, October 2014
32 pages

From the publisher’s web page:

An ironic yet informative alphabet that defines the most important gaming terms that everyone needs to know, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet is the ultimate crossover gift for our age, a book that can actually bring together video game-obsessed kids and their often perplexed parents.
If you can decipher the following sentence, you don’t need this book: “This open beta game is in third-person but first-person is unlockable if you know the cheat code or install your own mod, but either way, for the best attack on the boss on this level, try to grab that power-up!”
– See more at:

Okay, I know I’m showing my geeky gamer girl side, but I love, love, love this book, and I think today’s young (and not-so-young) readers will, too!
It’s an alphabet book, of course, which means the information is organized by letter. Within that constraint, Barton somehow manages to work in a whole bunch of key concepts necessary to understanding video games. Some are expected, such as “boss.” Others are more surprising, like “instance.” In either case, readers will love seeing the terms they’re more familiar with from the games they love playing, as well as the terms they’re less familiar with but may have run across in conversations with friends. I’ve played a fair amount of video games in my lifetime, and I was still very pleasantly surprised to learn a few new terms myself!
The artwork is bright and fun and helps illustrate the concepts well. The illustrator tips a nostalgic hat to older games that more grownup readers will appreciate, while at the same time referencing enough current faves to delight younger gamers.
Check this one out, and then come back on Wednesday for my interview with the author, Chris Barton!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday
(Disclaimer: The review copy was won by the blogger as part of a promotional giveaway.)