Cheating on books, cheating on games

During our recent visit to the National Videogame Arcade, the receptionist jokingly asked whether I liked games or not: “I mean, why else would you be here – it’s not like we read books!” I laughed awkwardly. Probably not a good time to share that I have a degree and masters in literature. Maybe. And also that I love reading, maybe even more than gaming. Just laugh awkwardly and back away, slowly.

I love books. I was one of those kids who obsessed over them. I would spend the whole day devouring novel after novel, preferring the written word over my peers and, more surprisingly, videogames. I may have dabbled in Pokemon, Street Fighter 2 and Sonic, but Jane Eyre was my jam. My time was spent reading, and it always kills me that my mum didn’t know how lucky she was that I wasn’t pregnant at fifteen, never did drugs or drink, and pretty much never went out.

15+ reads in the space of a single year. Jane Eyre is the Bubsy 3D to my ulillillia.

However, it is increasingly difficult to think of myself as a book obsessive. Instead of reading, I spend the majority of my leisure hours playing videogames. It could be related to age. I definitely recognise myself in the words of Vladimir Nabokov:

Between the ages of ten and fifteen […] I must have read more fiction and poetry—English, Russian and French—than in any other five-year period of my life.

I think this is a shame, because although games are often heralded as the most interactive artform ever (or something), I simply don’t agree. I think reading is the most engaging, interactive form we have, even if it does lack wires and a touchscreen. That is hardly surprising, because it is a far older technology. Though we have naturalised reading as something everyday, it is actually a relatively new mass media in human history. Language may be natural, reading in silence to yourself certainly isn’t. Plus, reading/writing is a remarkably difficult thing to master (as this blog ably demonstrates).

Does this make me a hopeless book snob?

Maybe, maybe not. I recently attended a writing class and there was a woman the same age as myself (mid twenties) who made it very clear, in this literary setting, that she spends her time playing PS1. Pleasantly surprised, I responded that I too had a PS1. But then she countered with, “Well – mine is really old.” Unnecessary competition much? “So is mine. I also have a Saturn and an N64”. Not to mention all the other consoles I sometimes refer to lovingly as ‘my children’. Yeah. Who’s the crazy console lady now?

By now, I’m well used to such bizarre passive-aggressive behaviour, so the thing that stood out to me was how this woman clearly assumed I wasn’t – couldn’t – be into games, literary gal that I am.

What is this bizarre competitiveness about? Can’t readers and gamers get along, inter-mingle a bit? I’m equally invested in both books and games, but life is increasingly telling me I’m on my own in this Venn diagram.

maya venn diagram

Alone. And possibly singing an overrated Adele song.

It’s weird. Whenever I play games, I feel as though I’m cheating on books. And when I’m reading a book, my eye always trails over to the pile of yet to be played games. And I also have so many unread books, and so, so many book recommendations from gamephobic friends. You could say “Well, you write for a blog about videogames, not book reviews, so play games”, but when the majority of my formal education was in narratology, postcolonial literature, history and reading, it’s not so clear cut. I get cross-eyed debating this in my head.

Anyway, why does society want me to pick? I’m giving my first world money to several different industries – shouldn’t society just be happy? Can’t we all just get along…?

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5 comments

  1. moresleepneeded

    I find these opinions interesting. I feel there are quite a strong connection between reading and playing computer games (rather than films). Both books and computer games require the audience to become immersed in a fantasy world, are long stories and are very easy to be stopped and resumed. I do feel computer games are more interactive though, as the player has direct control over their character, even though they still have to follow a set story by the game.
    Strangely, I am reminded of something a comedian said. While discussing computer games on a show about media, the comedian claimed computer games were the only source of entertainment which “denies content based on success”, comparing dying and restarting a game to a book making a reader re-read a page because the book did not feel the reader understood the page.

    • veryverygaming

      I remember that quote – by Dara O’Briain on one of Charlie Brooker’s shows!

      I think that books can also deny the reader content by virtue of being “too difficult” (something modernist writers are often accused of), or the fact that meaning can be infinite. One person only has their interpretation/s, but then there are so many other people who will have different interpretations or get different meanings from the same text. So our access to meaning is limited, the content can often be inaccessible.

      • moresleepneeded

        That is correct about the source of the quote. He also makes an interesting point about more realistic games, saying he takes a day off work to play Grand Theft Auto, only to spend hours waiting in simulated traffic. This is an interesting comment about games which add everyday actions to increase the realism of the game, rather than just provide dynamic action to progress a story.
        I actually like books which are open to different interpretations. I find it allows the reader to be able to become more involved in the story as they can work out subtle themes in the book. The reader can also find out about other interpretations and examine the story to see if the other theory is valid. I also like this in films and games.

  2. YvoCaro

    Nope, you’re not alone there in your Venn diagram! I’m right there with you. When I was young I always had my nose buried in a book, and I’ve never stopped reading. Not always as much as I used to, but I always come back to it. Sometimes I find a new series that’s just so good that it occupies all of my free time, sometimes I want to spend time with my old friends: waiting in the bookcase all year in hopes that I pluck them out!

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