I’m sure many people have at many times lamented the lack of interest of young males in reading books. Personally, I’d chalk this up to several reasons, one of which is probably that girls are more likely to be happy to sit still for long periods. The other reason is that the overwhelmingly vast majority of books – especially young adult books – are written by women for a female audience. Combine that fact with the likelihood of boys being soured on the whole “reading” thing by compulsory public education, and their desire for competition, and it’s no wonder they’ve gone to video games for their downtime. You can’t “beat” a book by reading it, but you can definitely “beat” a video game – and quite a few of them have a narrative arc and characters, along with rayguns and giant swords and fireballs of doom.
I’ve played a few games in my day. Not too many, and no first person shooters – I have VR sickness, a subset of motion sickness, which means I soundly curse every director who uses shaky-cam in movies – and can’t play first person games. So my personal experience comes from computer games – primarily various editions of Civilization, Oregon Trail, and Age of Empires on the PC side, and on the console side, Japanese role-playing games like Final Fantasy XII and Kingdom Hearts. (Alas for the new KH game – I find myself profoundly uninterested anymore in the level grinding required to have an easy time progressing through the storyline in JRPGs, and I’m not a skilled gamer who can finesse her way through the plot. Ni no Kuni, despite its beautiful graphics, failed to capture my heart, too. Although that may have been the storyline. The main character is just plain too young to be interesting. I must have grown too cynical for the Pure of Heart Child Hero.) I also enjoy sitting around on my laptop while my husband does all the work running through games like Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted.
Anyway, back to the book analogy. Some video games are like the choose-your-own-adventure books, only instead of being locked into whatever idiotic thing the author decided gave you at every turn (can you tell I don’t like the genre?) the video games’ storylines are more flexible. Save the Princess? Sure, as soon as I go off on this sidequest and hunt this beast/acquire shiny weapon/etc. The narrative is still there, but suddenly instead of following the story and only seeing things relevant to the plot, there’s a whole world to explore, monsters to kill, puzzles to complete, trophies for completion to achieve. Eventually you might hit the Impassable Rockfall and have to continue the plot to gain access to new realms, sure. And sometimes the plot just makes you go “Huh?” but that’s true for a lot of other stories, too.
So basically, I’m not as “down” on video games as Martel is. Some of them are junk entertainment, sure, although the Karmic payback aspect of the latest GTA is amusing. (It’s still “junk food” entertainment, from all that I’ve heard, and particularly amoral at that.) But I think that there’s a place for them, especially for the strategy games as intellectual challenges, for the team-based games as venues for building teamwork and cooperation skills – and for the narrative-based single player games as the refuge from a world of publishing that’s been pumping out gray goo and “necrobestial love triangles” for years. When a “young adult” age male is choosing entertainment and wants a good story, where’s he going to go? The bookshelf full of Twilight knockoffs? Or the gaming console? The gaming console, duh. That’s where the good stories went. And for added difficulty, you’ve got to earn your plot advancements, and given the online nature of games these days, compare your sidequest achievement trophies with all your friends.
As the old publishing gatekeepers die out, we’re probably going to see more boys – and men – get back into reading actual books, whether hardcopy or ebook. Indie is arriving. Sure, the lack of gatekeepers will mean that it’ll be harder to find the good stuff – for a while. I read a lot of fanfiction, and let me tell you, us rabid fans have ways of sorting the gems from the muck. Favorite rankings. Hit counts. Recommendation lists. Word of mouth. And not every fanfic writer who’s gone on and made it to the “pro” level with their original fiction is Fifty Shades of Ick, either!