Video Games Make Us…Read?

Posted on May 14, 2010

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Are video games tearing people away from literature? The immediate response is yes, video games and other multimedia entertainment is replacing the written word. But, search under the oily hair and pepperoni faces of your stereotypical gamer, and you just might find someone who is much, much more than a button-smashing hermit. 

No doubt gamers spend dozens, if not hundreds of hours velcroed to their couches to shoot, slash, and slay the night away. But bigger maps, broader stories, iconic characters, technological progress, and even achievement hunting have been the brick and mortar for deeper gaming experiences. Gaming experiences that often lead players to reading.

Hardcore gamers ultimately strive for enhanced immersion in a game and conquest of a virtual reality. To rule these realms, gamers not only need to be capable gamers, but they rely on game guides and other reading materials. Enter the studious gamer.

We are obviously in the middle of an unstoppable shift towards a digital culture driven by images, not words. But, that doesn’t mean the written word is going the way of hieroglyphics. Thanks to game guides, gamers are passively incorporating reading, critical thinking, and even map reading into their diet–not too bad for a couch potato if you ask me. 

For instance, try playing open-world RPGs Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Dragon Age: Origins without a game guide. Without a guide, traversing these enormous maps would be like driving cross-country without GPS. Reading up on these worlds allow players to uncover key strategies for battles, and unearth hidden missions, equipment, achievements, information, and even characters that are often totally neglected. If you haven’t played games like these (or at least watched someone play games of this magnitude) it’s hard to understand, but believe that reading is essential to not just exploring these robust worlds, but surviving them.

Another angle to examine the value of a game guide is from a financial perspective. It’s not impossible to play an open-world game without a game guide, but gamers (or a gamer’s parents) pour serious money into a year’s worth of games. So, spending the extra cash on a guide helps players squeeze every penny out of their $60 investment. Even when it comes to more linear games like Batman: Arkham Asylum–game guides help players through side missions that enhance the story and encourage players to try more minigames such as in-game puzzles and easter egg hunts. Bottom line: reading game guides help players enjoy games on new levels.

Nowadays, game developers go way beyond just creating a fun, empowering video game. They build libraries of history and deliver it piecemeal to gamers through in-game data files. Assassin’s Creed and Fallout 3 are great examples of games that incorporate history (sometimes even real historical contexts) into the gaming experience.

While game guides and in-game data files are directly connected to a game, what about other reading materials that get gamers to turn off their consoles or computers? Publishing houses have been snatching up game titles and putting them to binding ever since Nintendo sparked the “Nintendo Comics System” with Valiant Comics back in 1990.  Today’s popular titles often come packaged with publishing deals to create a deeper experience for gamers and reading buffs alike–and of course to boost profits. 

Dead Space. Mass Effect. Halo. Prototype. Half-Life. Star Wars. All these AAA titles extend their boundaries via novels, comics, and graphic novels. These don’t even touch on the hoard of Marvel and DC franchises that have been brought to life in video games.

Of course, not every gamer reads. Some players just don’t care to dig deeper into a game and the fiction behind it. Games have come a long way to incorporate fully-fledged worlds, even galaxies, into the experience. Whether it’s a comic, novel, or game guide, the depth of development going into a singular game franchise is astounding–and gamers would be well served by paying attention to the bigger picture, if only to enjoy the button smashing experience that much more.

It all boils down to human nature. We are all  bubbling with curiosity and imagination. Literature, games, and comic books all channel the imagination and pull us into faroff worlds. We can argue if cake is better than pie–cake being games and pie being books of course–but in the end it’s all brief, sweet, and blissful indulgence.

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Posted in: Op-Ed