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.
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.
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…?