One difference between my childhood and that of my brother, who is two and a half years younger than me, was how we spent our free time. I spent my days nose-deep in a Famous Five novel, figuring out the detective genius of Nancy Drew, or falling in love with the main character of Sweet Sixteen’s boyfriend. He, on the other hand, was trying to figure out the best tackle move in K.O., racing against time and the animated cops in Grand Theft Auto, and spending hours on end kicking a ball around, trying to score on FIFA.
Now you may assume this might make me biased toward books over gaming, but interestingly enough it’s on the contrary. As time progressed I learned to enjoy gaming. I wouldn’t say I’m a fanatic, extremely far from it, but I did realize that there were a few benefits to be gained from games.
So let’s hold on for a minute before us literature lovers go to get our battle weapons against gaming. Parents also take a breath before they almost die out of fear that video games are going to destroy all sense of morality in their children.
Video Games can make you smarter. Historical research shows in some cases that interactive gaming can have positive effects on cognition by promoting memory, attention and reasoning. Lucy Prebble, an award-winning scriptwriter actually states that gaming can be similar to writing, in that both are private, creative activities very different to watching films or reading books, which involve less input. Video games also require the user to make decisions, giving them the chance to influence the story and even in part design the world in which the game is played out.
Video games can increase social interaction. The truth, no matter how we may not want to hear it, is that reading is a very isolated activity. We can have book clubs or discuss what we read with other people but you can’t read with other people. Gaming can teach children how to play as a team, how to cover for each other, and how to compete in a healthy manner.
There is the argument that with a book, the reader must imagine everything for himself – the world, the characters, everything – whereas video games serve all this up to you on a plate. An article by 50ayear.com shared how this is not necessarily true. The reader must imagine, true, but so must the gamer. As a gamer, you must imagine your way out of this situation, think about what you know about the world and consider what might happen if you take a certain course. In all cases, words mean nothing until they are interpreted. Characters and stories don’t come alive until a reader absorbs them and begins to plot, predict and question for himself. Much like a gamer would do. Both of the two mediums involve imagination and interaction – maybe they occur slightly differently, but neither is entirely lacking.
So do all these arguments for gaming prove that we should throw books out the window? I would never in a million years endorse that. To me books are life! We’ve already stated in previous articles the numerous benefits of books but let me just stress the importance a little more.
For one, books have, of course, been around for a lot longer than video games and so have had longer to be accepted into the cultural canon, the world over. They’ve also had longer to develop as an art form – writers have the comparatively larger weight of literary history behind them to learn from, reference and improve upon. In fact, as a general point, there are more books in existence than there are video games (humans have been writing for much longer than they’ve been programming) so, purely from a statistical standpoint, there are more good books out there than there are good video games.
Secondly, Literature’s effect on our brains goes way beyond a few extra vocabulary words or improved grammar. An article on lifebygeek.com shares how research has shown that our understanding of certain words is directly tied to the structures in our brain that deal with the concept represented by them. When you read words like pungent, stench, stink, aromatic, reek, flowery, perfume, etc., your olfactory cortex lights up! [NYT] When you read the word run, your motor cortex lights up! In fact, our understanding of words is so dependent on these relevant brain structures that Parkinson’s patients demonstrate impaired processing of action and movement verbs.
The simulation is so powerful that researchers have drawn a connection between empathy and reading fiction. Fiction presents us with an eccentric sample of circumstances that our brains can simulate with remarkable fidelity. The bigger and more varied the sample, the better prepared we are for challenges to our social norms. We learn to better adapt to our social environment.
Besides that, books can widen our worldview and teach us to embrace other worlds, people, cultures, and times. Critically though, not every book is a gift from God that is mentally, culturally, or psychologically enhancing, and not every video game is a curse from the devil sent to promote violence, sex, high-speed racing, and alcohol.
It is a matter of being wise. Allow children to have fun games that motivate them and keep away idleness. Encourage dance workout games on the Wii, discover their love for music with ultimate guitar, or even promote games where they have to use their intellectual capabilities to get out of situations. At the same time limit the onscreen time and buy books that are just as fun, intellectual, and interesting. Teach them the beauty of being drawn into the world of the book, and creating a world in their mind that can be just as entertaining as the one onscreen.
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.