Halo 2: The Official Game Guide
by Piggyback Interactive Limited
(Prima/Random House)

Step aside, "novels." Stand down, "short stories." Your outdated forms of "literary expression" are no longer needed. The book-buying public of America has spoken, and it has chosen its preferred form of literature: videogame strategy guides.

Released in tandem with the Xbox's Halo 2 game, Halo 2: The Official Game Guide sold more than 270,000 copies on its first day of release. Yahoo! Finance noted that the guide is "one of the fastest-selling new books of the decade," while a bewildered CNN Money added that the guide's sales were "the best first-day sale of a Random House book since the release of former president Bill Clinton's autobiography." In short, the guide not only blew through sales records, but heralded an unexpected trend in both the videogame and publishing industries.

Hardcore gamers consider strategy guides as cheat devices--the videogame equivalent of corking a baseball bat. The Halo 2 guide demonstrates why: each of its 226 glossy, graphics-heavy pages gives players specific instructions on how to handle each bad guy, navigate the game's sprawling levels, and utilize the best tactics for multiplayer competition. What is surprising is how basic it is--the Halo 2 guide doesn't offer anything useful to anyone who's already played the game and is a halfway perceptive person.

If only due to its sales numbers, though, it's a weirdly surreal exercise to read Halo 2's guide as a legitimate piece of literature. Alternating between geek-speak and incongruous stylistic choices, the book is a bizarrely artsy tack on the nuts and bolts "go here, shoot this, then go here" style of most videogame cheat books. Check this passage: "Watch out for containers that can explode. The first encounter is a mere warm-up, a gentle aperitif, because the real army is waiting in the next hall." This book is 226 pages of that, and it's outselling pretty much everything else at Barnes & Noble. I'm sure that's no shock to PS2-savvy 12-year-olds, but tell me that fact wouldn't make every participant in an undergraduate fiction workshop burst into tears. They'd best dry them, and start figuring out how to advise the next batch of lazy gamers through Halo 3.