An Essay on Reading, Gaming, and Social Responsibility
By Michael R. Lockridge
I was writing recently on the similarity between playing video games and reading stories.
It was in response to reading here about blogging Zelda games. I got to thinking on the similarities and differences between the two media, and began to think about the relationships between reading, video gaming, and the social impact of both.
We are accustomed to people reading. People read at home and at work. People read while waiting for a bus, train or airplane. People read while riding on a bus, train or airplane. People read wherever they go. This behavior is common, and generally accepted.
I would suggest that reading has a social acceptability due to its association with learning. Even though much reading is done as recreation, the positive association carries over. Even recreational reading is considered a good thing. Perhaps it is just the huge social contrast between literacy and illiteracy.
Video gaming appears to me to be less socially acceptable than reading. Perhaps it is due, in part, to video games initially being played on televisions. They were thus associated more with watching television than with reading. Watching television is associated with leisure activity, while reading is associated with learning. Video gaming, therefore, appears to be time wasted.
Advances in portable video gaming have brought a closer parallel to reading. The portable units are similar in size to books. As a result, they do not recall the practice of watching television quite so readily to the mind of the observer. However, the acceptability of video gaming still rates far below that of reading.
Generally, for reading to appear excessive, it must strongly affect socialization. The picture of the man of the house retreating into the newspaper is the most graphic representation of this excess. It is iconic, and often portrayed in movies and on television. Apart from this, however, reading is generally associated positively with intellectual productivity.
Excessive video gaming, however, has been portrayed quite negatively. Beyond the assumption of excessive time and energy being invested in leisure, there are extreme cases of gaming presented prominently in the news media. Damage to families, loss of resources, cost to business in loss of productivity. Even death. It is not hard to find such in the news. When such events occur, they gain prominence.
Of course, such losses are not exclusive to video gaming. Gambling has been the legitimate cause of much grief. Even collectible card games have lead to failure to pay rent, or buy sufficient food. Sometimes obsession with games can have tragic affect. I would contend that obsession is the real problem, and that the object of the obsession is secondary.
Over the course of time, reading and gaming will become less distinct as activities. This will be due to the use of the same system for conducting both. The very machine upon which I write this can be used for playing games. I can conduct research on this machine. I can process and store pictures and videos. I can also meld all of these things together into multimedia documents.
As these machines become more portable, we shall use them in more places to conduct all of these activities. Gaming on such a machine will become simply one of the many activities one can conduct anywhere. Novels will be produced while waiting for buses. Critical research will be conducted while at the Laundromat. Time will be wasted, and utilized, playing games everywhere.
We will read more. We will write more. We will play more games. Our cultures will change, and we will change. Some will like it, and others will not.
And we will read all about it in places like this.