Harold Goldberg doesn't think video games get the respect they deserve.

They are a $20 billion-a-year industry, with as much spent on video games as movie, music and DVD sales combined, and 42 percent of American homes have a game console.

Even as they are scorned by many in the mainstream media, Goldberg argues video games are influencing pop culture, altering how we tell stories and even rising to the level of art.

Goldberg wants to change the image of the video game with his new book, "All Your Base Are Belong to Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture."

He offers a history of video games, from "Pong" and "Donkey Kong" to "Grand Theft Auto" and "FarmVille," and sketches of the people behind them.

His title comes from a broken English phrase, a poor translation from the taunt in its original Japanese, taken from a scene in the video game "Zero Wing." The phrase became an Internet phenomenon in the early 2000s.

Goldberg, a Lackawanna native and former freelance writer for The News, is best at describing the game-creation process for the parents of "Super Mario Brothers," "Sim City" and others.

He feels other books about video games didn't capture the dramatic tension, panic and adrenaline-fueled camaraderie in game-making.

Goldberg has years of experience writing video game reviews, including the Game Break blog for VH1, and spent two years as editor in chief of Sony Online Entertainment.

Goldberg describes himself as thin, bald and living with Crohn's disease, but when he plays video games, he said, for a moment "I even feel immortal."

He begins "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" with what is considered the first video game, "Tennis for Two," a rudimentary program created in three weeks by a researcher at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Goldberg tracks the arc of the video game as it moves from the arcade to the console system, from the CD-ROM to the Internet and finally to the smart phone and Facebook.

The more memorable figures include Nolan Bushnell, the brash founder of Atari. He got his start paying hippies, parolees and Hells Angels $1.75 an hour to build arcade versions of "Pong," while they got stoned with their boss, before he and his company flamed out.

Then there's the legendary Shigeru Miyamotoh, a Boy Scout who built model airplanes as a kid, who came up with "Donkey Kong," "Super Mario Brothers" and "The Legend of Zelda" after Nintendo hired him as an artist.

CD-ROM games such as "Myst," the addictive online game "EverQuest" and the violent "Grand Theft Auto" series all get their own chapters, as do Will Wright's "The Sims" and the hit Wii system for the casual gamer.

Games for Facebook are mentioned but given short shrift, and there's no reference to wildly popular smart-phone games such as "Angry Birds."

"All Your Base Are Belong to Us" has some interesting details, such as the fact that the original name for Atari, Syzygy, had to be changed because a California roofing contractor was already using it.

And the game that used a 135-member Gregorian choir singing in Latin, or the designer who earned $45,000 for his work and responded, "In Indianapolis, we won't have to work for, like, ever."

The literate Goldberg refers to the late University at Buffalo critic Leslie Fiedler and quotes "Bullfinch's Mythology," Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Voltaire.

But at times it's hard to keep all of the video game creators and entrepreneurs apart, because their stories of early financial struggles and their passionate pursuits of their gaming dreams sound too similar.

Also, Goldberg is fond of employing odd analogies and turns of phrase to make a point.

Bushnell's management style was, as the Big Bopper put it, "loose like a long-neck goose," for example, and the Wii and its motion-sensor remote were "a worldwide tsunami that left nothing but gaming glee in their wake."

I would only recommend the book to someone who loves games and gaming, but wouldn't you rather play them than read about them?

Stephen T. Watson has covered technology culture for The Buffalo News.

All Your Base Are Belong to Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture

By Harold Goldberg

Three Rivers Press

318 pages, $15 (paper)