Moviebob: Brick by Brick

Bob Chipman (a.k.a. “Moviebob”) has been creating online content for more than a decade and made his debut as one of the many “Gen-Xer rants about pop culture” YouTubers who became popular in the late 2000s thru early 2010s. Best known for his articles for The Escapist as well as his series The Game Overthinker, Chipman presents himself as a film and video game critic rather than a mere reviewer, a self-appointed “intellectual” for nerd culture. Along with his articles and videos, Chipman has also authored multiple books. His bibliography consists mostly of collections of his web articles, and if you search for him on Goodreads, you’ll see that his books have garnered very little attention. With one exception—Super Mario Bros. 3: Brick by Brick

As of this writing, this book has 123 ratings on Goodreads with an average score of 2.25/5 stars. Many of the 1-star reviews describe this book as one of the worst books ever written, and YouTube videos detailing the drama surrounding Chipman inevitably mention this book. If these reviews and videos are to be believed, Brick by Brick is proof of what an egotistical, heartless, socially inept monster Chipman is. 

Over the years, Chipman has acquired a reputation for being a condescending film reviewer with a bad case of “everything I say is right and if you don’t agree you’re a moron”-syndrome, and possesses a baffling hatred for Middle Americans. From everything I’ve seen of him online, he’s that rare breed of Internet personality who is so pompous and abrasive that he manages to alienate both conservatives and liberals. Alt-Right trolls hate him, the social justice crowd hates him, moderates hate him—everyone seems to hate him. 

But is Brick by Brick as bad as people say, or is Moviebob’s reputation getting in the way of an honest reading?

Brick by Brick is about a video game (Chipman states that his goal is to provide a “deep analysis” of SMB3) and one man’s decades-long relationship with it. It’s also about nostalgia—the drug of choice for many facing turbulent times in their lives.

Despite billing itself as a book about SMB3, Brick by Brick is really an autobiography, a chronicle of Chipman’s life up to 2012 as he dealt with the death of his grandmother and moving out of his parents’ home for the first time at age 31. Beating SMB3 one last time in his childhood home is Chipman’s goal, a rite of passage he’s created in order to convince himself that he’s “made it” as a functioning adult. This is a story about breaking free from the past physically while still clinging to it psychologically.

Before going any further, I’d like to make it clear that I think this book fails as both an analysis of SMB3 and as a memoir, but this failure has nothing to do with Chipman’s writing itself. Though many Goodreads reviews I’ve encountered state that Chipman’s typos and poor grammar make Brick by Brick unreadable, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how articulate Chipman can be.

Granted, there were some mechanical issues in his writing that were distracting. Chipman can’t figure out when to use “its” versus “it’s”. In addition, he seems unaware that titles of movies and video games are italicized and not placed in quotation marks. This book also contains some malapropisms which, after I read them, forced me to set the book aside so I could cringe and/or laugh. Chipman describes Shigeru Miyamoto as an “iconoclast,” when in fact Miyamoto created an icon (Mario), which is the opposite of what iconoclasts usually do (unless Chipman is implying that Miyamoto was attacking some set of cherished beliefs in Nintendo’s boardrooms, though I can’t imagine what those beliefs would be). When describing stage 1-1, he mentions the stage containing many “quixotic secrets.” Is Chipman suggesting that these secrets are delusional or impractical? How? And the last I checked, SMB3 doesn’t have a stage where Mario tilts at windmills. Later, Chipman uses “quixotic” in such a way that I think he means “exotic,” but I’m not sure. And my favorite comes from the chapter about the World 5 Airship stage, in which Chipman describes the ground as “terra-firmer.”

But what brings this book toppling down isn’t the way it’s written, but rather the way Chipman explicates the game as he connects it to his own life. The overt purpose of this book is to provide what Chipman calls a “deep analysis” of SMB3, a scene-by-scene breakdown of the game reminiscent of a scene-by-scene analysis for a motion picture. The majority of Brick by Brick’s pages are dedicated to this analysis, and it’s tiring to say the least. Chipman narrates his progression through a stage in its entirety—each enemy, each block structure, each powerup, each “quixotic secret” that reveals an extra 1-UP or Star Man. And as I read these chapters, I realized they weren’t so much analyses as they were exhaustive summaries with some game trivia thrown in. And the further Chipman progressed in the game, the more I thought to myself, “Why am I reading this? Why not just replay SMB3?” It would be a lot more fun, that’s for sure.

Throughout Brick by Brick, Chipman interrupts his gameplay segments with diary entries from his life, detailing family outings, his grandmother’s failing health, his apartment hunt, etc. Most negative reviews of Brick by Brick zero in on these diary entries as if they explain everything that’s wrong with Chipman, labeling him as a manchild because he chooses to deal with his grandmother’s pending death by escaping into the world of one of his favorite games. Chipman uses nostalgia as a coping mechanism, which isn’t a bad thing per se, but it is concerning to read about him coping with his emotional problems by playing a video game in the middle of the night and drinking heavily while experiencing sudden bursts of anger that feel less like “gamer rage” and more like the outbursts of a 31-year-old man who hasn’t learned how to process his emotions healthily. It would be funny if it weren’t so troubling. 

While writing this review, I couldn’t help but think of the Game Grumps’ let’s-play of SMB3 and how much fun it is to watch them play this classic platformer. They were laughing, cracking jokes, talking about Internet fame and homelessness and Salvador Dali—just having a great time. Compare that to Chipman’s lonely, boring playthrough and you’ll see why people hate this book so much. Video games are supposed to be fun. Moviebob found a way to make video games un-fun. Need I say more? 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: