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Are Video Games the New Books?

Updated on January 16, 2013

How Video Games Tell Stories Better Than Books

As far as entertainment is concerned, there is no competition; modern video games are far more immersive and engaging than books. I have no intention of implying that books are obsolete, but rather, I wish to place videogames on a pedestal to be admired for all the integrity they have earned for themselves. In a sense, comparing books to video games is like comparing apples to oranges. However, this is only true when comparing all books to all video games. Not all books are educational, just as not all games are entertaining. It is common knowledge that books and the internet provide a better outlet for educating oneself than videogames do. There is no real debate on this. I am here to state that video games provide a better outlet for entertainment than books do.

The power of modern video games to illicit an intellectual and emotional reaction in the player is nothing short of astounding. I have read a few books for entertainment in my life. I remember a couple characters and generally enjoyed the experiences. However, no book has ever grasped my curiosity and filled me with a sense of amazement as many games have. I will never forget the tension I felt when creeping through the leaky corridors of Rapture, reluctantly following the “suggestions” of Atlas. I will never forget the unparalleled awe of leaving Helgan’s dungeon, only to emerge in the beautiful and untamed lands of Tamriel. I will never hesitate for hours to read a line of a book, as I did before issuing many ambiguous orders as Commander Shepard.

The ability to control your character and interact with your environment have transformed gaming into an entertainment phenomenon. Hans Arnseth says it well: “A reader has no say in what happens to the protagonist of a book…while we may feel empathy, emotions run higher for videogames. By controlling the protagonist in a videogame, we become an active participant in the story. We are no longer passively being taken for a ride, but have to process information actively, make decisions and respond to stimuli from the game. Thus videogames are the stronger medium playing to a broader register of the human mind.” (Book of Games).

Triple A titles such as Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Uncharted have redefined our ability to tell stories. The combination of realistic visuals, dynamic audio, and interactivity have allowed video games to raise the bar on human entertainment. The youth of America has shifted from books to video games for their means of entertainment. People read less and less novels these days, and it is tempting to be lead to the conclusion that this must be a bad thing. It isn’t. America’s youth isn’t reading less because they lost their intellectual desire for stories and adventure. People are reading less because modern video games have become the richest and most immersive story telling medium in history.

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    • FrankCurzi profile image
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      FrankCurzi 4 years ago from Auburn, Washington

      Exactly, but still, you seem to mistake my point. Perhaps I didn't word it properly. There is never a Games vs Books debate in this article. In fact, I firmly believe games and books provide different experiences and should live side by side. However, the statement: "I would equate the average game with the average comic book in terms of narrative richness" seems inncorrect to me. Of course, there are plenty of games that don't provide intellectual satisfaction via story, no doubt. But, to consider the plots and concepts in Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Skyrim as equal to most comic books in narrative richness is to not fully appreciate what goes into these games. Again, as I said in the article "I have no intention of implying that books are obsolete, but rather, I wish to place videogames on a pedestal to be admired for all the integrity they have earned for themselves."

      Books and games are both great outlets for many of our needs, I feel that games provide the better outlet for entertainment.

      Not to be coy, but one thing that is relevant and a sign into the future of gaming is that in Skyrim, there are hundreds of books to read. Now, they are only from 4-15 pages each, but, they are in multiple series. Point being that soon enough, you will find readable versions of "A Farewell to Arms" and other classics in many prestigious games in the future.

    • j-u-i-c-e profile image

      j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On

      I love your enthusiasm, but speaking as someone who knows quite a bit about both games and books, I can honestly say that this argument seems kind of wonky.

      Video games are probably more *popular* than books among younger age demographics, and certainly many people find games more engaging, but saying they provide a superior experience is a lot like saying that, because you prefer coffee, and because more people prefer coffee over tea, that coffee provides a superior beverage experience. Frankly, that's incorrect. They provide different experiences which different people value to different degrees.

      Yes, games provide a more immediate sort of immersion. I love games, too. I play them all the time, and there's certainly something to be said for interactivity. But I also get frustrated and bored with games and put them down and go read a book. Games put barriers in the way of the player; books don't. Readers don't get frustrated with books as often, or to the same degree, as players get frustrated with games. Also, many games are very difficult to get into if you're not a serious gamer. Most books don't have this kind of entrance barrier.

      Also, the very best narratives in games to date do not compare favorably with even popular genre fiction in terms of depth of character, plot complexity, symbolism, etc. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since they're separate mediums and should focus on what they do best, but if you're looking for a really good story, you're going to have a much harder time finding it in a game than in a good book. You might be tempted to argue that, but having played hundreds of games and read hundreds of books over the last few decades, I would equate the average game with the average comic book in terms of narrative richness. I've read hundreds of those, too.

      Also, there is no comparison between what you can learn from a book vs a game. Many people enjoy learning--that counts as entertainment, too--and there's really little substitute for a good book if that happens to be something you enjoy. Hand-eye coordination, solving puzzles, pattern recognition, and teamwork are valuable skills, sure, but they won't replace philosophy, history, scientific theory, or the great works of literature any time soon.

      Now, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not ragging on you or on games. I think both mediums are very important, just for different reasons. Personally, I don't think people should be looking at games as a substitute for books any more than they should look at barbeque wings as a substitute for vegetables, or music as a substitute for film. They serve different purposes and should both be part of a balanced entertainment diet.

      In any case, it's just my opinion. Thanks for sharing.