Lots of books are games, even if they don't encourage you to roll dice, or keep a map, or make a choice of where to go next at the bottom of each page. Someone once said that all narratives are mysteries when you get down to it, because you always want to know what happens. Still, Press Here, by Hervé Tullet, is special. It's not just gamey, it feels video gamey. It's the part of games that I didn't necessarily think that books could get at. It's not about narrative so much as it's about interaction.
It's all so simple. On the first page of Press Here, there's a yellow dot. You are asked to press the yellow dot and turn the page, and on the next page there are two yellow dots. Press one of them again and turn the page and there are three. Rub the one on the left and it turns red. The one on the right turns blue. Tap them five times and you have five dots of each colour.
Pretty soon you are shaking the book to move the dots around, blowing on them to change the colour of the background, and clapping to make them grow in size. More importantly, pretty soon you are forgetting that you're actually turning the pages to make this magic happen and - if you're me - you're also forgetting to notice that, although you're 38 years old and hardly part of the audience for this kind of book, you have been following the instructions from the off. I flipped through Press Here just before I read it for my daughter, wary, perhaps that the French would try and slip in opinions about art or coffee, and as I flipped through it, I tapped the dots, shook the book, blew my heart out and almost could not help myself, because I did not really spot what I was doing.
It's a wonderful thing. I've always thought games didn't need to worry about narrative necessarily when they were offering you interesting things to do moment to moment, and here is a book that agrees with me, a book that builds a narrative, in fact, out of its mechanical contrivances. And its mechanics are so simple, hinging on the fact that one page may be different than the page before it, but that your mind will fill in the connections and decide they are both depicting the same thing, but that things can change. In a way, Press Here works for the same reason a flickbook works: the reader, consciously or otherwise, takes a lot of different things and can put them all together.
All books are games - especially, I should have added, where children are concerned, because children are singularly alive and alert to the many near-invisible rituals of reading books in the first place. Voices, digressions, at the very least the regular QTE of racing through the text to be the one turning the page. Press Here is a chance to see all of that afresh. What an incredible achievement.
Last thing: there's an app, inevitably, but that feels a bit redundant.