The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Friday, August 06, 2010

About Jenga... by Leslie Scott

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Jenga: a name that's synonymous with toppling wooden blocks, and for many people, long hours of good-natured gaming with their friends and family. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most simplistic game ever packaged. The fact that Jenga might have a living creator seems odd, right? Hasn't it been around, well, forever?

Leslie Scott, one of the few professional game designers in the world, is in fact, the designer of Jenga. And her game-to-fame (haha) hit the shelves less than thirty years ago.

Scott grew up with her family in Africa, and during the long, hot summers, they would play a game that involved stacking simple wooden blocks on top of each other until the tower toppled. It took her years to realize the novelty of this game, and longer still to realize how marketable Jenga could be. About Jenga: the Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name--written by the creator of Jenga herself—charts Scott's journey from humble homemade game, to family-night fun that rocked the nation.

Jenga—which comes from the Swahili word for to build--didn't have any easy beginning. Scott suffered through bad business relationships, patent and branding troubles, insufficient funds and lack of a platform for her game for years, until Jenga finally hit the market. But—and you know this if you've ever played the game—Jenga has a sort of magic to it that draws people near, and this magic proved invaluable as Jenga's prowess reached first a small circle of friends, and then a circle of companies, and finally encircled the world with a pair of wooden arms.

About Jenga has a lot of untapped potential. Whereas Scott could have used this publication to share stories about her customers, or light anecdotes about creating Jenga, she instead decided to fill page after page with business transactions and details of her trade. This is fantastic if you're looking for a comprehensive, report-like guide to the toy industry. But it isn't so great if you go into this wanting funny comments and witty charms about the people who played Jenga, and how much fun it was to create the game. The writing is rather dry.

Scott's writing is very academic, which is to be expected of a non-fiction book. However, this academic-ness impeded her storytelling abilities, and overall hindered the few narrative qualities that this book had. Often times, she gave too many explanations-of-explanations, and it was easy to forget exactly what she was talking about in the first place. Not that these tangents aren't entertaining—many are—but more often then not, Jenga's story becomes more like a biography of the toy industry.

Like many people whose hobby becomes their full time job, Leslie Scott seems to think that Jenga is just another game. And in a way, it is…much in the same way that Disney World is just another theme park. But if you read a book about Disney World, or its creator, Walt Disney, you'll find something that leaves you reminiscing about face paint and light parades and your first ride on that flying Dumbo carousel. This missing spark of nostalgia was one of the biggest downfalls of About Jenga, and that's really too bad.

So if you're looking for a comprehensive guide to the toy industry, and a warning about the many possible mistakes one can make while marketing a game—you'll love this book. And if you are a toy aficionado, or Jenga-obsessive, you'll probably like it as well. However, if you go into this looking for a summer read, or something light and fun, you'll be disappointed.

Author's website
Buy it on Amazon

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