Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

game as worm?

Celeste just linked me to this article.

“You can’t just make a book anymore,” said Mr. Haarsma, a former advertising consultant. Pairing a video game with a novel for young readers, he added, “brings the book into their world, as opposed to going the other way around.”

Celeste: Really? Isn’t falling into the world of a book one of the joys of fiction? But then, if a game *does* draw kids to reading, maybe it’s a good thing after all.

We found the following scene disturbing — and not just because it transpired in our MFA Homeland:

At a gaming tournament at a branch of the Ann Arbor, Mich., public library earlier this year, more than 30 boys gathered in a darkened room, feverishly sparring in matches of Super Smash Brothers Melee for more than six hours. Most of them said they did not read much, and rarely checked out books.
Derek Hibbs, 18, a regular tournament player, said reading felt too solitary. “You can’t say: ‘I charge you to a reading duel. Go!’ “

OK – I have often loved the idea of games based on books; when a kid (or, hey, anyone) loves a fictional world, of course he or she desires to inhabit it. Some of my fondest memories are of playing Windham Classics games on my Commodore 64 – of getting to live the adventures of Below the Root, Alice in Wonderland, and The Swiss Family Robinson. But using games as “bait” to get kids reading seems like a prospect that misses the point. If kids are just reading a book as research to help them answer questions or solve puzzles to get to the next level, then the fictional world they’re really excited about is in the game. Players get to change what happens in a game — not so in a book. It’s instant gratification. The experience of reading is powerfully different because kids must use their imaginations to meet the book halfway, to fill in everything with every sense – what it looks like, sounds like, smells like…but they don’t get to change its outcome. The reading experience is pleasurable and challenging in an very different way, it seems, from game-play. Reading demands more from your imagination and emotional intelligence, if less from your logical reasoning skills.

When we finish a book, we do not win, and we do not duel for the outcome we want. We do not feel superior to our friends who also happened to be reading it. Instead we read an ending given to us by an author, an ending that leaves us to puzzle over how and why things happen, often things beyond our control. But hey, we can talk about these things with our friends. And if, like Hibbs, we really long for a duel, we can fight about them.

What do others think?

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