This is the fifth (and my final) post of the Pop Culture 180 experiment, in which I will gave up video games and replace them with reading for more than one week. For more information, read this introduction post. Then, read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Let’s be honest about this: our little experiment didn’t really prove anything. It was rife with flaws. Going without video games and replacing them with reading confuses the question of whether the lack of video games or the binge reading is what is causing various effects. Further, much of the things that could be singled out as resulting from not playing video games could have simply been what happens when a person who plays a lot of video games suddenly stops. But it was interesting, and it did give us an opportunity to think and converse deeply about the various mediums involved, and to have our suspicions confirmed or denied.
For instance, in my last post I spoke about how anti-social I felt during the act of reading, which I still contend is simply a physical fact. This is not really up for debate in any real way: when someone reads in the way we all normally think of as reading, they’re not socializing. Instead they’re pushing everyone away in favor of that book. Occasionally, they may share parts of that book with someone, but they still hold a sort of secret knowledge, which is the context, the full meaning and the flavor of the book in their head – unless of course the other person has also ignored the world in order to read that book as well. My only pragmatic judgment as a result of this fact is that too much of a good thing can in fact be a bad thing. So kids, don’t read too much – it’s bad for you.
But listen up kids: you almost certainly don’t read too much. Read more please. It’s good for you. After I wrote that article, I began to experience some of the benefits of reading with an immediacy that shocked me. When I finally put down the book and spent time with my wife, our conversations were enriched in a way they hadn’t been in some time. I was horrified by this. Was I really missing out on this for all this time I’ve been taking a break from reading regularly?
Here’s the thing I figured out about reading: you shouldn’t really take a break from it, ever. I would say it benefits everyone to spend at least an hour a day exploring some world or idea or argument in a book – and yes, doing so while isolated from other people. Christians have done this for years with the Bible and called it “quiet time”. Let’s add other books to the mix as well.
Did video games make me dumber? It’s hard to say. The books are what seemed to make me so much smarter, not the absence of video games. In fact, I found it telling that around Thursday I developed a deep desire to solve something. It appears that video games had trained my mind to look for problems to solve, obstacles to react to, etc. They had given me a more active personality.
I would say reading encourages people with active personalities to be thoughtful, realistic, and careful about the way they solve problems and deal with obstacles – but neither games nor books really offer both benefits. I’m convinced that books can allow for a passive acceptance on the part of the reader. Note those who devote themselves to genre fiction – the typical romance novel fan, science fiction nut, reader of books found in Barnes and Noble’s humor section, and Oprah Book Club Member. These are often unhealthy and passive personalities who simply read and accept words on a page. They are not asked to act on these words, nor are they asked to quibble with them.
Meanwhile, the gamer questions everything. Game developers can vouch for the fact that gamers are a quibbling bunch, finding constant fault with design and gameplay decisions. Meanwhile, in the game world, they are asked to make choices about everything from how they win a race, to how they overcome a boss. They are asked to decide what is right and wrong, and whether that even matters.
Here’s the difference between games and books: games ask questions, while books give answers. Games present an opportunity to devise our own solutions, while books sit us down and explain what we should have done.
No medium is a “bad” medium, and video games, I believe, have the potential to be a great medium. I’ll write more on that in the future, I’m sure. But for certain cultures, and certain people some mediums are better than others. For this hyper-visual and hyper-interactive culture, and for individuals who regularly play video games, books are not just a beneficial medium; they’re a necessary medium.
Look out for the Pop Culture 180 Podcast Discussion this Friday, where Ben and Rich will discuss more in depth what their experiences were like.