NYT: Gaming leads to mass reading?

According to a recent article in the New York Times titled “The Future of Reading: Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers”, new efforts to bring video games into traditional literary areas are happening due to “that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print”. One quote postulates “I wouldn’t be surprised if, in 10 or 20 years, video games are creating fictional universes which are every bit as complex as the world of fiction of Dickens or Dostoevsky”. Also, they discuss how rich game worlds such as the one in Postal 2 have opened a dialogue around issues of race, religion and gender sensitivity.

OK, the last one I made up … but it might as well be in there.  Let me be clear – anything that fosters reading and learning is good in my opinion, but this over-valuation of alternative learning based on so much unsubstantiated conjecture just has to stop.  It has been documented through the years that the reading level associated with TV shows is barely higher than a Dr. Suess book, and that video games are pretty much at that same level.  I chose Dr. Suess specifically for the reason that it is not an end in the educational process but a means: a gateway for very young kids to get interested in reading and become more literate and develop a better sense of grammar, style and vocabulary by reading more and more advanced works.

Sadly I look at the folks in that article as being self-serving and either dillusional or disingenuous: book sales are somewhere between ‘declining’ and ‘plummeting’ depending on who you ask, while sales of video games are soaring.  They see that by adding cards to fiction as Riordan has done they can get a ‘Pokemon Effect’, a linkage that extends their world across multiple media.  Again, that is not a bad thing – but please don’t patronize us by saying it is in the name of a better educational system.  It is a money grab.

I don’t mean to diminish the value of video games as fun entertainment with the possible ability to provide actual educational opportunities in rare instances; I just think that we need to be realistic here – the rise of this ‘new literacy’ has also seen more and more studies showing that the skills that employers need, the very skills that pundits claim that are delivered by the ‘better education’ of video games and blogs and Web 2.0 sites, have not been better served.

Time is a zero sum game: there are twenty four hours in a day, and no new era of advanced multitasking kids can change that reality.  If kids are spending ~4 hours a day between TV and video games which provide a first grade readin level, those are hours that are not spent reading at their own grade level, of learning other skills, of expanding their horizons in other ways.  Video games are an extremely mainstreamed entertainment source, offering little that deviates from mainstream acceptable thought, and therefore never pushing the boundaries – the very boundaries of comfort and what is known that need to be pushed for true learning to occur.

Again – I am a gamer, my kids are gamers, and pretty much everyone readin this is a gamer.  Don’t get me wrong, I see video games as a wonderful part of a well balanced life.  But when your teen wants to have a cathartic experience blowing stuff up in a war setting, do you reach for The Killer Angels or Call of Duty 4? Exactly … each serves a purpose, and attempting to repurpose one as the other to make folks feel better about their kids spending more time a day playing video games than they do a month reading (according to studies) does a profound disservice to us as parents, to our kids, and to the world that could benefit from their underdeveloped talents.

So I hope that there is a positive impact of gaming on reading – but I hope it is a means to an end and not a means to simply increase gaming at the cost of the reading it is supposed to be enhancing.

And as for my Postal comment … that game could claim to introduce people to cultural, religious and other stereotypes with the purpose of bringing about discussion of those topics, but in reality the presentation is juvenile and trite and serves little purpose but an excuse to poke fun at stereotypes in a stereotypical way.

No Responses to “NYT: Gaming leads to mass reading?”

  1. The whole “digital literacy” angle is just that, an angle. A fluffy one at that. But the question that should be asked is this: Can video games encourage reading? And I thikn the answer is Most Definitely they *can*.

    There are several ways this can be done, and has been done. The first primary example I will hold up is by doing exactly what the article says, creating a game world and expanding upon it in print. Best example in my mind is what Blizzard has done with Warcraft and Diablo. Both games take place in rich well defined universes. Both games have a series of books associated with them that fill in some of the background and alternative plots. In this case the gamer may end up reading the books just to get more knowledge of the amazingly rich world that the game takes place in.

    Another example of this is what Lucas has done with Star Wars. Lucas started with the movies. Then there were the books, graphic novels, and comics. Now there are the games. And they are all in the Star Wars universe. There isn’t the tight, direct link between games and books like with WoW, but the link is there.

    Another is the way described int he article where the game and book are integrated into what is essentially a multi-media experience. If you want to do good at certain parts of the game, you had to have read the book. The drawback to this method is that it forces the person to read the book. And if they dive right into the game first, they will have to stop playing to find the answers in the book, not a good thing.

    The final way that games can encourage reading is simply by telling a story. Many games, mostly the RPG types, tell a big story. Many of them also have quite a bit of text to read during the game. It is not reading in the traditional sense, but it is still reading.

    But the bottom line is what you said, there are only 24hrs in a day and they need to be spent doing a variety of things, not just playing games, no matter how “educational” they may be.

  2. Very good point – but I would argue that while what you said is absolutely correct, it represents an ‘old way of thinking’ that is counter to the ‘new literacy’.

    But one of my son’s friends back in Massachusetts was a non-reader who got into reading with the Halo books. Whether or not the reading habit ‘sticks’ is another question, but it at least puts them in a mindset of reading.

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment

Tired of typing this out each time? Register as a subscriber!