Videogames v. Reading

“Why do you recommend video games when you could be recommending books and reading?”  

I’ve gotten this question a few times, mostly from the well-meaning type who maybe tries but probably can’t wrap their head around the attraction of games and gaming. This type is an avid reader and cannot understand why kids seem to be giving up books. Here’s what I tell them:

First of all, a bit of background. I was an avid reader. I used books to educate sometimes, but mostly to escape. I have fond memories of all the books I’ve read but those memories are more for the escape and thrills, than for any literary value. I’ve written several picture books and three novels, I’ve got lots of encouraging rejection letters, and I am signed for a non-fiction GamerDad book with Launchbooks Agency (I swear, I’m working on that proposal David!). I love books, I love reading, I’m nuturing it in my kids and I love to watch them read their books (and their video games – there is lots of reading in video games). My point is, I do have a vested interest in promoting reading because I am a writer.

So why don’t I do that? Why don’t I promote reading to children? Maybe throw a line into my speeches like “Give a Hoot, Read a Book!”?

Because I don’t promote anything to children. Video games and children are meant to be together, the sense of play and “doing” is too strong a pull.  No, I don’t try to convince kids to do anything really. I promote video games to parents. See the difference? There are so many great games out there. Imaginative games, sandbox play games, excercise and music games, wargames, and yes, shooting games, yet only the vilest and most controversial games get all the press. I believe in  the catharsis they provide, the accomplishment, persistance and tenacity they nourish, the complexity, the reflex and reaction time, the immersion in a fantasy sense of place – all of it – offers at least as much value as it offers danger and harm.

I counter the mainstream media and most parental advocates because I’m not interested in scaring parents about the things their kids love anyway. I want to bridge the generations and show parents that games have changed, they’re here, kids love them, so you might as well accentuate the positive.

Encourage your kids to read. But know that the inherant value in reading (which is tremendous) was once suspect.  They actually said, in the earlier 1800s (and this is paraphrased):

The novel was something to fear. It influences young minds with the opinions of the writer, it promotes laziness and sloth, and it destroys the imagingation.

Sound familiar?

6 Responses to “Videogames v. Reading”

  1. My point is always that video games – along with singular play, group play, reading, music, and so many other things – are part of forming a well-rounded life in the 21st century.

  2. Bravo! Bravo!

    Well said. It is our jobs as parents to promote reading, writing, and anything else. Your role in all this is to make sure we are informed as to what the options are when it comes to video games. And thank you for doing it. 🙂

  3. And don’t forget that lots of video games encourage reading, too. Before Jeff could read he always begged me to read the text to “Mario PG (Super Mario RPG)” and “Cwono Twigger (Chrono Trigger)” as I was playing. And heck, Pokemon encouraged my other little brothers to learn to read so they can play the game better! –Cary

  4. As the local librarian, I want to chime in and say thanks for what you do promote: Informed parents and shared experiences with our kids.

    Steven Johnson was right, reading sets the bar only because it can first. If gaming came first… well making arguments about the literacy skills and cognitive development would be a little easier. There studies to show reading interest and ability increasing with gameplay. GamerDad’s job is to inform parents. Parents jobs are to make sure their children are exposed and experiencing multiple literacies (both new and traditional) that will help them learn and serve them in the future. Gaming is one of many activities that do this.

    To echo Cary, last fall my son (4 at the time) learned how to read and was eager to play Zelda on the DS after watching me. He started his own save file and spent the next 25 minutes frozen in place on the floor reading through the opening sequence… who says gaming doesn’t promote reading.

  5. “He started his own save file and spent the next 25 minutes frozen in place on the floor reading through the opening sequence… who says gaming doesn’t promote reading.” Haha, awesome. Reminds me of when I was little.

    I used to read books for entertainment, and had a hard time deciding between reading and playing a video game. These days, the choice is easier, because I’m pickier about the quality of my fiction–so I don’t read much fiction. I still read a lot of nonfiction, but that’s an entirely different experience from choosing a good game to play. There’s not as much conflict.

  6. As a high-school student, I find that gaming is useful for social connection, thought-inducing, and stimulating. I feel really insulted when people dismiss my hobby as haphazard. I read a ton (manga, informational books for programming, chess, and the like, as well as fiction novels), and I find all of them useful. Sure manga is like comics, sure games can have detriments, but it’s all helpful when used correctly. The makers put tons of effort into making their game, to create a world which we can see and experience. Games are an art form, just like a play, except YOU are the character.

    If people are going to compare them to drugs, they might as well compare books to that too.

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