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Are Video Games the New Novels?

Adult culture is waning in America, and its influence over American life is as visible as appreciation for the literary novel, as accessible as a theater playing an “adult drama”—the Hollywood term for films with coherent storylines and intelligent character development—outside a major metropolitan area. While entertainment for adults, outside of a few popular television shows, descends into the basements of obscurity, the popularity of video games soars.

The industry journal Digital Trends reports [1] that the U.S. is by far the world’s biggest video game market. In 2011, Americans spent more than $25 billion on video games and nearly 70 percent of Americans called themselves “gamers.” According to a Pew study conducted in 2008 [2], there is only a small difference between the amount of time adults and children devote to killing zombies, racing cars, and slaying dragons with remote controllers on electronic screens. Fifty-three percent of American adults play video games, and because they have more money to spend, many video game designers and manufacturers now market their products primarily to grown men and women.

As someone who spends part of his time teaching college courses, I can relate that most of my male students freely admit to spending most of their weekends sitting in a circle, staring at flashing images, and playing out their fantasies of hand-to-hand combat or athletic stardom on the latest Xbox or Playstation gaming console. Considering that I teach English Literature, I was surprised to read that those young men were actually receiving a brilliant and useful education in the arts, and that they might as well be reading Charles Dickens.

At least that is what Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason.com, suggests in his recent article for Time [3], “Grand Theft Auto is Today’s Great Expectations.” Gillespie, whose otherwise sharp libertarian journalism and advocacy is extremely valuable, attempts to make the argument that the video game is not only “art worth celebrating” but “the defining popular art form of the 21st century.”

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The original definition of vulgar was “of or associated with the masses of people,” though it now signifies “unrefined” and “unsophisticated.” Gillespie’s case for the video game as a great art form is crudely vulgar. He relies mainly on statistics proving the popularity of games. If critics used his methods elsewhere, they would have to conclude that pornography is artistically superior to Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Mozart, and Miles Davis.

But Gillespie’s perspective is increasingly common in American culture. Historian Morris Berman argued that “deviancy is defined downward,” and one might say the same for vulgarity. As video games become more popular, and more important in a market-driven culture, profitable, they become more prestigious.

“Grand Theft Auto,” the subject of Gillespie’s essay, is an exploratory game in which players “roam around a fictionalized California, assume a variety of different identities, and engage in sex, drugs, and violent criminal activities rendered in state-of-the-art graphics.” The New York Times called it [4] “beautiful” and “seductive.” A writer at Salon praised the game [5] for its “important critique of America’s consumerist society,” failing to grasp the irony that Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto’s developer, rolled out a massive advertisement campaign to make its new release the highest selling video game of all time.

Many other newspapers—most of which have eliminated or reduced their books coverage—have run glowing reviews of Grand Theft Auto.

There is little thoughtful pushback against the mainstreaming and legitimization of the video game as an adult hobby–most opponents rely on foolish moralistic arguments. “Video games cause gun violence,” “video games are the end of civilization”, and other claims stemming from overwrought alarmism, often sliding into censorship, are easy to dismiss. Gillespie has no trouble making MSNBC host Ed Schultz look ignorant and reactionary for his recent conniption connecting the game with mass shootings.

The most troublesome aspect of video game dominance of pop culture and young adults’ leisure is not the likelihood of moral decay, but the accelerating force of juvenilization in American culture. In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman makes the case that American children and adults no longer exist in separate spaces, and therefore, live together in a permanent state of adolescence. The political theorist, Benjamin Barber, makes a similar argument in his book, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. Barber identifies “three primary pairs of infantilization”—“easy over hard,” “simple over complex”, and “fast over slow.”

The obsession with video games demonstrates this trend. Video games move at a rapid pace, while a novel demands sustained concentration. Novels require the intellect and imagination to unravel complicated characters. Video games reward fast fingers. Video games, even when challenging, tend to value a fun and relatively easy experience, while the novel, even when pandering, often cannot, because of the obvious limitations of the medium.

To argue that the video game could become the novel’s equal, or replace it, is not only to reveal a juvenile engagement with arts and entertainment. It is to disregard the most basic principles of technology and media studies.

Marshall McLuhan declared that the “medium is the message.” The frequently quoted but rarely understood insight suggests that technologies have value, influence, and properties in and of themselves, regardless of the content they deliver. The response that a medium triggers in the brain, the stimulation it gives, and the desires it inculcates are integral to its influence, while content is secondary. Even a lousy novel, for example, is probably better for the attention span than a clever video game.

The novel is an adult medium that is slow moving, not stimulus-intensive, and demanding of contemplative silence and reflection. Video games are overly stimulating—visually, aurally, and physically—and they require frantic interaction.

Gillespie attempts to compare contemporary criticism of video games and historical skepticism of novels. He makes a convincing case that panic-stricken moralists who go into convulsions over the potential for degradation or decay in ethics when teenagers plug in a gaming console are not unlike the agents of repression who fought to keep novels, jazz records, and rock ‘n’ roll albums out of the hands of young consumers.

The Puritanical streak still runs loudly and colorfully through American culture, and it pressures most social critics to frame every question in moral terms. But the legitimate concern raised by America’s fixation with video games is not moral, but one of maturity. For instance, a new study from scholars at the New School for Social Research [6] shows that literary novels help readers more effectively discern the beliefs, motivations, and emotions in the people around them. Literature, the authors of the study conclude, “uniquely engages the psychological processes needed to gain access to characters’ subjective experiences.”

“Video games” stretch from casual games, such as Farmville and Angry Birds, to lengthy role playing and adventure games. To be sure, it would be foolish to deny that some games in the latter category (including “Grand Theft Auto”) do have smart and complex storylines, while other games—something as simple as the classic Tetris—are useful in building spatial awareness and intellectual problem-solving skills. By their very nature, however, they cannot come close to the salutary effects of reading literature.

Much of the engagement required by literature derives from its minimalism. There are no visual or sound effects in literature. The imagination must work overtime, and the reader must enter a contemplative state in which subtleties become essential to understanding the narrative and the characters’ role in it. Video games might function very well as entertainment, but because of their dependence on sensory overload, they cannot fill the quiet space of the novel, and they cannot inspire the same contemplation.

Novels are best for minds that enjoy quiet, serious, or at least sustained, thought, and the independent exercise of the imagination. Video games are made for those who seek sensory bombardment, moving quickly from one place and action to the next. In other words, the mind of a child.

Americans, especially American men, would do well to grow up, but in the meantime, they should call their teenage fixations what they are—avenues into arrested development, not art.

David Masciotra is a columnist with the Indianapolis Star. He is the author of All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky).

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "Are Video Games the New Novels?"

#1 Comment By W.E.B. Dupree On October 11, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

I’ve been playing video games since I was a kid (I’m now in my late 30s), and I don’t agree with very much of this piece, but I will admit one thing: today’s games still have dialogue so clunky that I turn down the volume whenever my wife enters the room, so that she won’t hear just how lame it sounds.

#2 Comment By Patrick On October 11, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

Sure, it would be lovely and salutary for the adult culture of the United States if more people read literature instead of playing video games. This is a false dichotomy, though: what percentage of the audience for these games would seriously consider spending their leisure time on Dickens, Flaubert, Hemingway, or Faulkner? Moreover, would they even be able to make sense of it, much less enjoy it? Literature is accessible mostly to the well-educated, who possess the tools necessary to appreciate it. I teach undergraduates at a top-25 university, and I’m not convinced (based on reading their work) that most of them have the vocabulary or reading skills to get much out of complex literature.

Essentially, there’s a lot of wishful thinking here. Even at the peak of an auto-didactic, popular literary culture in the first few decades of the 20th century, the absolute numbers of people reading literature were relatively low as a percentage of the population. If one wants to compare video games to another medium of entertainment, movies, television, live music, or Vaudeville are all better analogues.

The author notes that some video games evince thought-provoking and valuable stories and thematic elements, but complains that they aren’t “art”; I don’t find much value in the piles of junk one tends to find in modern art museums, but since I don’t have the aesthetic sensibility or training necessary to judge or appreciate them, I refrain from lambasting said piles of junk as unworthy of the title of “art”. Video games aren’t novels, but they can certainly reach great heights of storytelling and sensory involvement. Not all of them do, but that doesn’t mean that the medium itself is to blame.

#3 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 11, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

I doubt that anywhere near 50% of adults play video games, nor that over 70% of adult Americans call themselves “Gamers.” Ridiculous and highly implausible even given the wide popularity of video games among adults.

#4 Comment By John On October 11, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

People who read and people who play video games are not mutually exclusive categories.

Not all novels inspire a contemplative state in which one receives practice in quiet, serious and sustained thinking.

#5 Comment By Carl On October 11, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

“Video games move at a rapid pace, while a novel demands sustained concentration.”

I just finished a 30 hour RPG, which is a standard length for that sort of game.

Some points:

– “Videogames” is not a genre any more than “books” is. There’s not a lot in common between Tetris and Journey besides the use of a joystick. Puzzle games don’t have stories or have just fluff cutscenes. RPGs do have stories, of varying levels of internal consistency. Shooters tend to be in between. There are many other genres.

– Most novels are crap. Sturgeon’s Law.

– Very few videogames have decent stories or writing, but there are exceptions.

– Very few books are as good at evoking the identification with a character that videogames evoke effortless. “*I* died,” we say, although it was your avatar and not you who died.

– Grand Theft Auto V isn’t that great as Art, but neither was Tropic of Cancer or Peyton Place. There’s no sense in talking about a single work as the arbiter of worth for a medium.

– Until recently, all games were made by large corporations for juvenile audiences, but recently the cost of making games has fallen to the point that teams of two or three people can make games that reflect their interests and sell to niche audiences.

#6 Comment By sickoftalking On October 11, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

“The obsession with video games demonstrates this trend. Video games move at a rapid pace, while a novel demands sustained concentration. Novels require the intellect and imagination to unravel complicated characters. Video games reward fast fingers. Video games, even when challenging, tend to value a fun and relatively easy experience, while the novel, even when pandering, often cannot, because of the obvious limitations of the medium.”

Not all games are the same and not all novels are the same. I realize you’re making qualifications — noting that some novels can be pandering — you still want to put the two mediums on opposite sides of a spectrum, and its very difficult.

Your description doesn’t easily apply to a turn-based strategy game like Civilization. To be able to win the game, you have to slow down and think about what you’re doing and plan strategically. There are even more extreme examples, if one wants to make a point. For example, any game made by Paradox Development Studios, like Europa Universalis, Victoria, or Hearts of Iron. Most people can’t stomach those games and find them incredibly boring and overloaded with micro-management. But they have depth, and they appeal to geeks who are interested in history and strategy.

There are also other game genres that have had more complex games that require patience for the player. In the role-playing arena, the Ultima series back in the 90s both had complex stories and characters and required you to always figure out what to do next. It wasn’t a linear experience where you were always led by the nose and told what to do. Often you would have to make observations about the characters you were interacting with. You would have to think, just like you do reading a novel. And often what you had to think about didn’t involve simple puzzles, but moral and ethical subjects.

The way you describe things, every game is a first-person shooter or a brainless MMO.

As for books, there are many pulp novels made for easy reading. I’ve known women who choose to chew through trashy romance novels over watching movies or playing video games. This choice doesn’t require them to give up a relatively easy experience for a hard one. In fact, they do so because it entertains them more than movies or games they might find boring and demanding. I’ve invited my mother to watch a certain movie, but she gets bored and returns to reading her romance novels.

So, I just disagree with the generalizations you’re making.

I wouldn’t disagree if you argued, though, that the majority of mainstream games are made for audiences that want their gameplay easy to digest. In fact, a lot of game developers have to often compromise to the demand for easy-to-digest games and intentionally dumb them down in order to secure funding from prospective publishers. This type of problem has lured a lot of old-school game developers and indie game developers to Kickstarter to crowdsource their funding.

#7 Comment By Byron On October 11, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

This article and its references grossly generalize video games and David Masciotra’s bias is clear. For every study and opinion piece demeaning interactive media as regressive for a teenagers and young adults many more can be found as to the benefit of interactive media. The latest installment of Grand Theft Auto fits well into David Masciotra’s criticism if he ignored the writing, however if he had considered this year’s games like Beyond: Two Souls, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Going Home, and The Last of Us this would be an entirely different article.

#8 Comment By Escher On October 12, 2013 @ 3:55 am

American life is all about instant gratification- from Wall Street’s quarterly earnings growth obsession to startups looking for quick buy-outs to quick fix solutions like ‘No child left behind’. Video games are just 1 manifestation of this trend.

#9 Comment By Charles Cosimano On October 12, 2013 @ 4:47 am

Of course the obvious counter would be to say that maturity is but a stage of incipient senility and best avoided. It is not an argument that is going to fly very far.

#10 Comment By GhaleonQ On October 12, 2013 @ 5:15 am

There appear to be 2 parts to the argument. 1: contemplation is superior to stimulation. 2: video games are solely about stimulation.

I’m not particularly interested in the 1st, because Masciotra doesn’t argue with depth about it. Does this apply to all art forms, and does it determine the merits of artists within each form? For instance, is Fedor Dostoevskii categorically superior to Arvo Part because literature is supposedly more contemplative than music? Is Tim Hecker Boris’ better because his ambient bombast is more controlled than psych metal? It seems like a silly argument on its face, one I can’t address without more information.

The 2nd is just provably, factually wrong. As someone who detests Insomniac, Sony Santa Monica, and Rockstar, it annoys me when gamers rely on critics “just playing the wrong games.” However, you are just playing the wrong games. Yes, some games stimulate and are worthy of laud for that reason. Bakumatsu Romance/The Last Blade requires an intuitive understanding of math (for timing, spacing, and damage dealing), history (to grasp the effects of the story), and digital precision (because gameplay doesn’t reward clumsiness). [7] (Try viewing this to understand: [8] ) Rather than the lame Tetris example, why not the Twinkle Star Sprites series? It’s a falling block puzzle game combined with a shoot-‘em-up, and the point is to simultaneously be highly reactive and to reach a state of calm where planning can take place (not unlike tennis, in my experience). [9] I think those are praiseworthy.

You’re ignoring whole categories of games. There are graphic adventure games. I do love Western-style ones, but Eastern-style ones best address your argument. They began with tales of adolescence games like Portopia Serial Murder Case/Portopia and Famicom Fairytale: New Island Of Oni/Famicom Bunko: Shin Oni Ga Shima. The most popular version is Turnabout Trial/Ace Attorney, a whip-smart, hilarious, and aesthetically perfect comedic lawyer series. However, a company called Cing made mystery games that are utterly contemplative. [10] Their games marry small town quaintness and introspection with big city stakes. The puzzles are clever, but the atmosphere is dreamy and encourages you to read and develop your thoughts on the player character. It’s inspired by games like Farm Story/Harvest Moon and Animal Forest/Animal Crossing, where there are things to do, yes, but which exist to have you spin tales, experiences, and creations in a digital world the way you might when reading good poetry.

Unlike some people who may respond to you, I’m not saying twitch games are bad. Let’s go with shoot-‘em-ups. Now, I love the tone of the famed Irem R-Type series, especially Final. It has you fighting an alien threat with creepy natal imagery, and the gameplay was always driven by calm under stress, as you balance limited threats that focus on limiting movement and getting you to crash rather than shooting you. [11] It’s pattern recognition taken to a high level. There are also games in a subgenre called “bullet hell” or “manic shooter,” most famously made by Cave. I’ll pick one that’s not aesthetically great, but which demonstrates my point. [12] What happened there, essentially, was that shooting doesn’t matter, movement does. The player has to stay in front of the boss without getting moved away or shot, and if the player is about to do so, there’s a special that can erase the bullets to get the player out of a jam. So, no, this does not create a parallel to Les Murray or Yukio Mishima’s complexities and how they may make us think of religion’s sociopolitical role or the innate power of words and their sounds. It DOES create a parallel to mathematics or science problem-solving. The player identifies a pattern. Then, the player has to identify a series of patterns. To win, however, the player has to link correct solutions to the series of patterns on the fly. Again, it creates a dual mindset for the player; be calm and contemplative but also do math tactics in a separate section of your thoughts. This is “higher thinking,” genuinely, and it enriches me. I say that as a graduate of a great school with a religion/government/education (read: liberal arts) degree.

Most importantly, the best game ever made has the player-character stand still for, literally, 10 or 15 minutes at a time to teach you to be patient, avoid stimuli, and focus on what matters. The whole point is that video games ought to affect behavior in the real world, so it seeks to have players unlearn what they have learned. I wrote a rushed essay that eventually built up interest into a fan translation, so you can play it soon. [13] It explains the concepts well, I hope, even if it’s messy.

I hope you play better video games in the future. Mainstream publications will not serve you as well as Scroll, Hardcore Gaming 101, or NeoGAF.

#11 Comment By spite On October 12, 2013 @ 6:08 am

To see Grand Theft Auto as the pinnacle in game achievement is like saying that some cheap airport crime novel is the best there is to novels. I do acknowledge that the majority do play the Grand Theft Auto games, but then again, compare how many people read Dostoyevsky compared to Tom Clancy.

The genres and styles of games out there is vast and do not all involve “frantic interaction”. Games such as the “Total War” and “Civilization” series are excellent ways to teach history to people who would never bother in any other way. There are countless city/empire management games that are not a test of how fast one can bash a button, but a good way to test ones patience and planning skills (I am talking about those very long browser based games). There are puzzle games, traditional games now online (like Chess or Poker) and countless other games that can deliver more contemplation that this author thinks only novels can do.

#12 Comment By Mightypeon On October 12, 2013 @ 9:01 am

I would suggest to play some strategy games.
Most of my younger brothers intense interest in history comes from playing a computer strategy game called Europa Universalis 3, where you dont engage in Sex or drugs but do things like:
-Unify Germany as a minor count in the Holy Roman Empire
-Survive the Conquest of the new worlds as the Atztecs
-Modernize the Ming Empire

What is appealing in Computer games is that creating your own story via a computer game is far easier/less time consuming than actually writing a story.

You also appear to underestimate the ability of “mods” or modifications. Computer games often allow you to “fix” them, one can fairly easily use such mods to generate quite high quality content, and then get than content peer reviewed. You dont really have that in normal writing.

One should note that Computer games do not preclude people from reading either.

#13 Comment By J DeSales On October 12, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

I’m waiting for a train on my way home from work. When the train arrives, I’ll continue reading Le Livre de la Cite des Dames. When I get home, I might play Crusader Kings 2 or Fallout: New Vegas. While I’m under no impression that either of those two games are the equal of Christine de Pizan’s city, that does not mean that both are simply avenues of arrested development. I’d rather say that they are unequal in the way a painting can never equal a sculpture or a ballet an opera (or vice versa) since, as you pointed out, different media/genres have different functions and aspects.

Let’s take your main criticism – that games assail all of the senses (a critique of television, film, ballet, opera, and the theatre as well). This may be true of Fallout, but not of a game like Crusader Kings (and many other well crafted grand strategy games). Their soundtracks tend to be more atmospheric and sound effects are often only there to alert the player of certain issues. Further, while narrative games require no more imagination than the aforementioned forms of visual/aural arts, grand strategy games often do, especially when abstracted. To play a nobleman or patrician with an entire world of possibilities at one’s fingertips in a game with no goal outside of “keep the dynasty alive” forced the player to come up with their own sets of goals and enter into the mindset and behavior patterns of someone from that period. To continue thinking like a modern and applying modern morals is often a recipe for disaster.

And this is one of the video game’s greatest assets – it forces the player to act as another individual, to adopt another set of values and thought processes, and see the world in a new way. Games like Crusader Kings and Victoria: An Empire under the Sun do this on an historical scale; games like Papers, Please and Analogue: A Hate Story do this on an intensely personal scale; games like Braid or Spec Ops: The Line do this in a way to twist your perception of reality or depict madness. Perhaps you are just not very well acquainted with video games, particularly those outside of the mainstream, though other than Victoria, they all have gotten a lot of press in the gaming community. Perhaps you need to do better research?

#14 Comment By Johnny F. Ive On October 13, 2013 @ 1:31 am

Wasn’t the novel itself considered low brow compared to poetry when it became popular? I thought film replaced novels, and video games replaced television. I think television is about passively watching other people do stuff. Video games allows the viewer to take an active role and depending on the game they can create a fantasy life in an online video game. A person can have a boring life but they can be a great mage in an online video game, or considered to be skilled in a game that requires thinking and/or muscle memory skills. FPS games are treated like a professional sport: [14]

Aldous Huxley wrote about the creation of infantile adults in the “Brave New World” and John Taylor Gatto has written about it too. Basically their argument is that children are psychologically conditioned to be immature adults. Children are discouraged to read, learn, or explore their environment by associating it with pain (grades/disapproval), but video games allow people to learn, fail, and gain mastery over something without fear of punishment. I think adults just maintain these habits.

#15 Comment By Daniel On October 13, 2013 @ 1:59 am

One point that the author failed to address is the why of video games. Why are men (yes, adult males) increasingly moving to video games as entertainment? Is it solely because of instant gratification, or maybe because most novels (or, fill in the blank with whatever your preferred form of entertainment is) are crap?

#16 Comment By obijuan On October 13, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

If some video games are art then I would like to name Out of this World as a contender.

#17 Comment By channelclemente On October 13, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

I’d say the story interludes are some of the best escapist fiction I’ve read/watched in years. I find the games generally boring and similar in content, but the story mates can be beautiful and engaging. Those games constructed with variable choices as to characters and content are quite clever in that the story lines then vary as a consequence of those choices, Mass Effect being the example that most quickly comes to mind.

#18 Comment By david helveticka On October 14, 2013 @ 10:41 am

Because I sell components (processors, motherboards, video cards, etc) to make custom computers for video gaming, I was especially struck by this article’s insight. While many guys with responsible jobs and families are “gamers”, there is a distressing number of young men in their early to mid 20’s, living in their parent’s basement, or in a 3 bedroom house with 5 other roommates, who owns a $5000 gaming computer. No career, no family, not even a girlfriend, overweight and unkempt, they are lost in the fantasy world where they are knights or warriors or super-heros—or in the case of GTA, street tough criminals.

Once a guy left work early on a friday afternoon at 3:30, bought a variety of high end computer components including new motherboard with processor, video card, power supply, etc.—and told me in was in a hurry to get home by 4330, so he could remove all the components from his old computer case, and replace them with the new higher end components, before his wife got home at 6:00 so she would not know he bought a new gaming computer.

Another customer, a Mom of a 16 year old boy confided in me her concern over the purchase of gaming computer for her son. She told me she thought it was changing her son’s personality, that he would go into his room on friday afternoon, and not emerge until Sunday morning, playing the online game, Battlefield.

A third young lady came in with her overweight 13 year old brother, buying a very expensive gaming computer for him. During the sales process, the young man confided that he didn’t have any friends. And his responded that was the reason they were buying him a gaming computer, so he could have some “online friends”….

While i believe that the idea of a young man building his own gaming computer is a great experience, teaching them many important things, I get really concerned over the possibility of anti-social, even irresponsible behavior, that are possible with the addictive delights of a virtual reality in video gaming that shuts out a real reality. So naturally, I must agree with the observation cited in this article: Barber identifies “three primary pairs of infantilization”—“easy over hard,” “simple over complex”, and “fast over slow.”

One last observation is that I must disagree with the dismissal of the “moral objection” to the content of video games. Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza was an extreme version of the kind of young man that I see all too often buying gaming computer components. Spending hours acting out killing and mayhem in a increasingly realistic virtual reality, no social skills, and few friends outside of the virtual world and/or people with the same gaming addiction as himself. Sure, there are plenty of normal guys, and even families that play online together. But the gaming addict is all too familiar enough to become a stereotype of the “gamer”.

This article rings true to me, who is involved in this business.

#19 Comment By david helveticka On October 14, 2013 @ 10:50 am

In response to a previous poster, there is a difference between the “strategy games” like Civilization, and the “first person shooters” like GTA or Crysis or Battlefield. As someone involved in the business of gaming systems and gaming computers, I must say the most common game among “gamers” are the “first person shooters”.

I would agree with you on some potential benefits of the strategy games, but most often they are lame in the historical sense, and the character development is puerile and simple minded.

The gaming industry is not interested in increasing the moral or intellectual development of it’s customers, it’s interested in making money. And like Hollywood, they don’t care how. And that means simple-minded story development, lots of bright colors and shiny gizmos. The bad is driving out the good in the marketplace.

#20 Comment By Vince On October 15, 2013 @ 11:50 am

I loved this article, make it longer! Go deeper!

#21 Comment By B. Will On October 15, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

While I freely admit that I myself play video games and have seen the damage they can do first hand, I do feel like there is something to be said for them as a story-telling medium. Perhaps the technology that enables games to be made could be re-tasked to bringing classic stories to life? Just a thought.

#22 Comment By B. Will On October 15, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

Also, play strategy games like the Total War series, which are based on building civilizations and the clash of armies. Very fun, very informative.

#23 Comment By Coyle On October 16, 2013 @ 10:18 am

I don’t know that I’m sold on the idea that the “vulgar” fiction of the 19th century is automatically morally/intellectually superior to the vulgar fiction of the 21st century. I’d be more inclined to argue that novels and video games each have their share of garbage and their share of quality works, so long as we understand that in each category there is far more of the former than of the latter.

#24 Comment By seamus On October 17, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

I’m someone who reads books and plays games. A few misses.

1. GTA is not a first-person shooter. It doesn’t require fast fingers. One of the reasons I like games like GTA is because they reward exploration and focus on story and environment, not fast-finger twitchiness.

2. Role-playing franchises like Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Fallout have multi-character storylines that are more intricate than *anything* the current best-seller list, the top 10 movie box office leaders, and the top 20 shows on TV.

Video games are a medium. A broad medium. When you read stats like “50% of adults play video games,” much of that includes Farmville or Candy Crush-style time wasters. Are playing those better or worse uses of time than, say, reading another violent crime novel or Oprah-club memoir? Who knows? But it’s impossible to write about “video games” as a monolithic entity and reach conclusions based in reality.

#25 Comment By Dan P On October 18, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

I’m glad you brought up McLuhan. In my mind, his ideas give the strongest arguments FOR the value of games as a medium.

As I understand it, hot/cold media refers not to the level of stimulation but the level of effort and investment required. TV is “cold” because it is passive – text is “hot” because it requires constant interaction and engagement.

In this sense games can be really good at fostering critical thinking and exploration beyond the superficial. A well-made game allows the player to explore counterfactuals, and even allow for some creative self-expression. If that isn’t a “hot” medium, I don’t know what is.

#26 Comment By Ash On November 8, 2013 @ 10:12 pm

This reads very much like an out-of-touch elder banging his fist on the table decrying the degeneration of culture at the hands of misbegotten youth. Not exactly the most original thought process.

Most of the replies here have outlined the issue quite nicely: to assume that all video games resemble Grand Theft Auto is the equivalent of assuming that all novels resemble Dan Brown or Shades of Gray. It’s willfully obtuse, and ignores the greater landscape of the medium in order to lay blame on it for unrelated social issues. Does the author seriously believe that if every video game system vanished off the face of the world tomorrow, people would be climbing over each other to get at Dickinson, Shelly and Hugo? (Not taking into account that today’s “fine art” was occasionally yesterday’s trash – Shakespeare, anyone?)

Further, what would the author say to the fact that many games incorporate elements from traditional media into their storytelling? Bioshock and Atlas Shrugged, for instance? Or what about Assassin’s Creed integrating ancient mythology and historical reality into its gameplay?

Effectively, what I am seeing here is someone brooding over what they deem to be a lack of appreciation for art in modern-day society, looking at a popular form of art and entertainment (and I do mean both), and crying sour grapes. Anyone who has truly explored the medium knows that it is about more than “fast fingers”–though what the author finds so awful about quick thinking and mental acuity escapes me.

#27 Comment By Senathome On February 11, 2014 @ 12:36 am

I would like to add my two sense to this argument if I may….Alot of comments i have read are from the generation of gamers who go their first kicks from ‘tetris’ and ‘centipede’ eg. very old and outdated games. As a concerned college student who spent half of his LIFE on video games, i could not agree more with the author of this article. It truly is a degeneration of culture, values, and the utter essence of what it is to be alive. Without bringing to mind the legal consequences my friends and i face when trying to explore this wondrous world without a controller in our hands; society at large is hindering this generation from becoming anything more. It feeds off of our natural instincts towards mindless stimulation. Many of you point out about compelling story lines and skill-building/explorative gameplay. I could not disagree more with these statements. A simple walk in the woods with a guitar and friends enjoying a brisk spring morning, to me, made 1,000,000 times more memories than half of my life playing addictive and utter TRASH of games such as GTA, Skyrim, Doom, World of Warcraft, Runescape, Diablo 2, you name a terribly addictive and utterly mind-numbing game, i’ve played it. For the current generation who is seeking employment and some type of culture to define themselves, we have simply chosen the worst medium to express our inner angst and are paying dearly for it. So for the generations that were adults when they made the decision to game…that is fine. For the parents who have kids who stay in their rooms (like me) all day playing video games only to leave to eat food with a zombie-ish grin on their faces, WAKE THE F UP! Stop ruining their lives and any sort of difference or memories they could have been making. Video games do not only exacerbate mental disorders and prevent any satisfying memories from being made, they have been known to bring about addiction potentials in kids who are especially prone to outside stimuli. As much as you all disagree with previous statements because you obviously love video games that much to defend them, i have played way too many to know how right I am and how wrong the positive seekers are. Go outside, read a book, play music, but get your head out of the computer!

#28 Comment By SomeoneRandom On November 28, 2014 @ 12:21 am

Yeah, in response to the last comment, one can easily apply that to books. *le gasp!*
If you spend your entire life with your head in a book are you then missing out on reality in favor of fiction?
Can you make memories when you are an obsessive book worm who loves nothing more to read everything you can get your hands on?
Anything and I do mean anything can become addictive. And anything again I do mean anything can be dangerous in an amount far exceeding that which we call “moderation.”

Also, just FYI people, Video Games have been known to stimulate the brain in beneficial ways. They are known to increase hand eye co-ordination and increase memory function. *stares pointedly at last commenter*

At the article, well all I can say is someone clearly doesn’t understand the medium. Like a novel is better because it’s automatically more time consuming? Pfft, the hell it is. The average time it takes to read say the first Twilight novel *shudders* is what a few hours, a day if that? A story mode in your average game is expected to be at least 8- 10 hours long and often chastised if it is shorter than 7. And that’s only if you play through the story mode alone, not counting exploring hidden puzzles, games, activities and collecting tidbits devs like to throw into their games.
You don’t contemplate in a game? Uhh have you ever played a strategy game before?

Also holding up GTA on some pedestal, really? I love the GTA franchise but it’s hardly the pinnacle of modern gaming. Also it’s highly subversive satire, the characters even point out their flaws written into them. You’re not supposed to take it all seriously. Geez.

#29 Comment By Clay On November 16, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

Unsophisticated games analyst thinks games are unsophisticated. More at 11.

Also, film is a bankrupt medium because Marvel.