Novelist Nicholson Baker has somehow managed to put 52 years of living behind him without ever picking up a video game controller, a failing he confesses is as sad as if he'd admitted in 1966 that he'd never watched an episode of Bonanza or listened to a song by the Rolling Stones.

To make up for time lost, Nicholson, guided by his 16-year-old son, spent the past half-year playing several of the biggest Xbox 360/PS3 hits, like Halo 3: ODST (desolate and repetitive, with incomprehensible Biblical and race-war under-meanings) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 ("just about the dyingest game out there"), and wrote about the experience for The New Yorker.

Baker isn't as down on contemporary games as those quotes in the previous paragraph suggest, though, and he shares a lot of insightful thoughts on the pleasures you can appreciate in first-person shooters even if you're typically averse to killing, and the challenges non-gamers face with just adapting to the controls:

"To begin, you must master the controller. On the Xbox 360 controller, which looks like a catamaran, there are seventeen possible points of contact. ...

In order to run, crouch, aim, fire, pause, leap, speak, stab, grab, kick, dismember, unlock, climb, crawl, parry, roll, or resuscitate a fallen comrade, you must press or nudge or woggle these various buttons singly or in combination, performing tiny feats of exactitude that are different for each game.

It’s a little like playing 'Blue Rondo à la Turk' on the clarinet, then switching to the tenor sax, then the oboe, then back to the clarinet."

The novelist also has a lot of praise for the graphics and settings in many of the third-person titles he played, like Uncharted 2 ("a visual hallelujah of a game") and Assassin's Creed II ("moments of loveliness, as when you reach a lookout high up over Venice and allow your gaze to sweep across the sfumatoed city").

Baker's full article of impressions on modern video games, "Painkiller Deathstreak", which also looks at titles like Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain, is in this week's issue of The New Yorker. The full text isn't available online without a subscription, but you can read an abstract and download a podcast discussion with the author here.

It's a shame he didn't play any platformers, puzzlers, or indie games, but he does indicate at the end that he's considering trying out Thatgamecompany's Flower!

[Via Salazar]