Mar 29, 2013

Playing Games in a Reader's World

Confession time: my first love was not reading.

Gasp, I know.

For the longest time, I would pretend to read books as a way to get to recess quicker or impress my teachers—even as a young child, I knew how to manipulate my way in to rewards for all my “hard work.” Actually, I didn’t care to read anything for a good deal of my kindergarten through second grade education.

Rather, I spent a great deal of time dodging books as a way to get back at my mother and father. I thought that by avoiding books, I was actually doing them a disservice, and they would feel terribly guilty for grounding me for this or chastising me for that. Once, at six years of age, I even wrote in a private journal that I would never read again as a way to show my mom how angry I was.  I guess when your family runs a bookstore you have a warped sense of how to show another person you have the upper-hand.

I’ll teach my mom to ground me! I’m never reading again! Can you imagine?

No, reading was not my fist favorite activity. Instead, I spent a great deal of time with a controller in my hand and my eyes glued to the television. Yes, dear readers, I’m afraid that I was a video games kid.

And here’s another shocker: I still am.

For the longest time, video games have been the go-to target for the book-lover’s scorn. Often deemed “brain-rotting” or “mind-numbing” by the reader elitist, video games have long been the target of criticism and ridicule in the bookish community. And while I cannot say I always disagree with these claims, there have been significant, even literary advances in games over the past decade.

Over the next few blogs, I’d like to help break down the perception that video games are somehow the enemy of all things bookish. Instead, let’s take a look at how video games and books can function along many of the same lines. 

Let’s start with a few adjectives:

If you took a look at this list of words, which broad category do you think it more adequately describes: Video games or eBooks? If a quick poll along the Minneapolis skyway is any indication, the jury is split down the middle—with “get out of my way” as a very close third-place response.

You see, eBooks—the rising star of children’s literature—often function in many of the same ways as a video game might. The images in eBooks are interactive: you can touch, twist, change, bounce, or smash just about anything within the most exciting titles. Similarly, the video games of today allow you to interact with just about anything on the screen. Popular eBook Sneaky Sam by Josh Stewart and 5th Cell’s creative darling Scribblenauts for the Nintendo 3DS are excellent representatives of this.

Sneaky Sam tells the story of a mischievous little boy and his affinity for sneakiness. Young readers can follow a day in his life by interacting with the various objects within Sam’s world. Whether it’s learning how to spell “scooter” by tapping his favorite mode of transportation or watching the miracle of flight by literally shaking up a flock of pigeons, they are plenty of ways for children to actively engage in what they’re reading. Similarly, Scribblenauts allows the player to interact with the world by creating objects like a ladder or yo-yo to assist them in reaching their next objective. Through trial and error and clever manipulation, the player uses their existing knowledge of functional objects and creativity to make their way through dangerous jungles and perilous landscapes; children and adult players alike are required to participate in their learning experience by interacting with the game.

In both scenarios, the reader or player is engaging with their venture in a way that promotes action and interactivity. Thus, learning is facilitated through both mediums.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to further dispel the myth that video games and books represent opposite ends of the activity spectrum. Check back next week for a little discussion on storytelling in video games and how it relates to the methods children’s book authors use today.
Until then, enjoy your Easter weekend! I know mine will be spent with a controller in my hand and a book in my lap.

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