Very much a product of its time, and to fully understand its inception as well as its legacy requires following a daisy-chain of interconnected subjects not unlike falling into the rabbit hole of a late-night Wikipedia clickfest. Rubens handles this challenge with ease, prioritizing a balanced breadth-over-depth approach with the wide variety of topics in play ... It is the tale of Theurer’s noble intentions and brief dance with the devil in his dreams that resonates the most here. Rubens effectively shows how Theurer’s blood, sweat, tears, and arguably some of his sanity went into Missile Command, and how the end result is something to behold. Powered by Rubens’ enthusiasm, 8-Bit Apocalypse melds all of these seemingly disparate elements, ultimately showing how Missile Command embodies the spirit of its time. It allows the reader to live (or potentially relive) that ever-present paranoia through the lens of virtual reality. By dipping into a wide array of subjects, Rubens makes this work accessible for the uninitiated but gives enough detail to satisfy those in the know.
Rubens had covered this topic before, in his 2013 Polygon article 'The Creation of Missile Command and the Haunting of its Creator Dave Theurer'. That was a great article at the time and when 8-Bit Apocalypse goes over similar material it’s similarly great. But in turning the article into the book, Rubens doesn’t just flesh out his main Theurer/Missile Command narrative but also goes on a series of semi-related tangents. ... you do get the sense that some padding was needed to turn what was a really tight article into an entire book. The writing also occasionally has the almost defensively celebratory and hyperbolic tone that plagues a lot of industry insider games writing.
Though repetitive in conveying Theurer’s rationale, Rubens’s history is an excellent analysis of Cold War–era fears and the escapism provided by video games. It will be fascinating to anyone interested in the cultural influence of entertainment.