Pop Culture 180, Part 5: Video Games Vs. Books… a Fight to the Death?

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.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Okay, so I’m sure you expected this so I’m not going to be surprising you when I say: I don’t think you understand books yet.

    Leaving off the social aspect of reading for a moment, let’s take a look at this statement: “Games ask questions, while books give answers.” I’m not really sure that there’s any truth in that at all. Starting with games, I think it would be fair to say that The Best of games may ask questions, but games that cause gamers to question anything are few. And games that challenge gamer assumptions are still fewer.

    You offered the bon mot, “The gamer questions everything,” citing how fickle gamers can be. I think that if this were true, if gamers were at all a questioning sort, then 98% of the games out there wouldn’t be distilled to a single question: “Okay, who do I shoot?” The gaming medium, like most other mediums, is not one that encourages innovation. It doesn’t challenge itself to develop beyond its core tenets and if gamers are critical and quibbling about anything, it’s about how well the industry is accomplishing the things it is already doing. Certainly the industry boasts its Introversions, its Jonathan Blows, its Team Icos—but the reason it boasts in them is that they’re the ones who are legitimizing the sad remainder of the industry.

    So yes, games may ask questions. But not any more than any other industry.

    And as far as books go, some books answer questions, but some books ask them. And do so, dare I say, far more eloquently than games have yet to do. In fact, I just read a 600-page book that did nothing but present questions. As I said on Friday, I think you need to expand your reading before you can begin to make judgments about a great many things. On Friday, it was about Chinese culture. Today, it’s about books themselves. Books may answer questions or they may raise new questions or they may do neither. All depends on the book.

    Now, to the Books Are Anti-Social thing. I’ll agree that books may hinder social interaction insofar as any task may. Any opportunity you take to focus on a task (whether watching a film, checking a sports stat, taking aim on a zombie-head, driving, etc.) is creating a kind of hindrance to your social interaction. So I guess that’s not a big deal. And like any task, it’s possible to become overfocused to the absolute exclusion of society. So yeah, there’s that.

    But still, to say

    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

    is to overstate. And it confines your argument by fallaciously positing “the way we all normally think of as reading,” meaning if someone disagrees, they’re clearly using an abnormal understanding of reading.

    Besides the reasons I gave the other day, there’s one more reason to speak of books as being essentially social. There’s are reason we call reading The Great Conversation. When you read a book, you are accepting the society of another, in a way that transcends space and time. And I mean how cool is that? When I pick up Moby Dick, I’m listening to a guy talk from hundreds of years ago. And more, I’m taking part in the same conversation that millions have taken part in before and with me. I’m engaging in social interaction in a way that those who haven’t read Moby Dick aren’t.

  • Matt

    While I agree with The Dane that some of your points are probably over-simplifying or overstating, I also think you hit on a lot of good points.

    I think books help enrich conversation, and not just with someone that has read the same book. As we “experience” new things through reading, we are, at the very least, creating new topics for daily conversations. So in that way I believe reading can enhance our social lives.

    Furthermore, I think that sharing any experience, reading or other, is almost essential to most-completely enjoy it. For example, I believe our joy as Christians to be most complete when we express our enjoyment of God through praise. For us passionate sports fans, our pleasure/dissatisfaction with our team is not content to dwell inside our minds.

    But obviously there is danger when you prefer the company of books to meaningful relationships.

  • Matt

    By the way, I enjoyed reading about your experiments. (And I may discuss it with my wife later)

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Thanks, Matt! Boo, The Dane! ;-)

    Seriously though, I basically agree with both of you. I think the helpfulness of my article may have been undermined by the overstatements and oversimplifications that have already been pointed out. We’ll address these more in depth in the podcast, but quickly:

    1. I did not find the experiment to be useless, I just found it to be less than scientific. I wasn’t trying to downplay the helpfulness of the series by saying it didn’t prove anything.

    2. My point in bringing up lack of social interaction involved in reading was really just a setup for the rest of the article in which I describe how it enriches relationships. Can you read too much? Yes, probably. Does anyone read too much? Hardly anyone.

    3. Yes, the last point was botched almost completely, but basically I was speaking not so much about what the mediums DID, but instead about what they were BEST AT. I wish I had spent more time on this point and less on the other two, but that’s the way the wind blows.

    If you have criticisms of post, I beg you to give me the benefit of the doubt AND to listen to the podcast this Friday.

  • Matt

    I agree that not many people read TOO much, but I do know people that do or have looked at books as a preferable alternative to real people, which is obviously unhealthy.

    That said, I don’t think your encouragements to read are going to produce a population of pale-faced, library rats. At least, no more than your endless professions of love for video games produces mid-30s, jobless, parent’s-basement-living gaming addicts.

  • http://bearspace.baylor.edu/Brittany_Noble/www/ Brittany

    Rich,

    So do you plan on intentionally incorporating more reading into your daily life?

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Brittany,

    I’ll say yes, absolutely for now. You can find out more in our podcast on Friday! (See what I did there?)

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    You disabled continued conversation to promote a low-interaction podcast?

    This is, I think, the one big deficit of the podcast. It kills interaction with your articles. This was especially the case when you guys were discussing the week’s articles. It felt like you weren’t contributing to conversations that you might otherwise engage because you were going to talk about it on the podcast.

    This doesn’t happen quite as much (or at least as evidently) when you’re doing a stand-alone cast, but you can still feel its presence hovering over CAPC comment threads. Like it is now.

    Part of the problem may be the (probably necessary) delay between recording and publishing the cast. You record on Monday and know for five days what you can’t really bring up for fear of stealing your own thunder from the cast.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Seth,

    This is probably something I do more than Ben. So that’s a shame, you’re right. Though the whole article clarification thing is just something I don’t have time to do fully outside of a podcast.

    But point taken concerning the other stuff. We’ll keep it in mind.

  • Katie

    I am an avid book reader and some of the things you’ve said sound highly familiar. Books readers are lonely people – I spent most of my time at middle school on my own reading a book. They replace the need to talk to people and I am definitely more involved in my own head than I am in the real world.
    Video games on the other hand are much more social things to do. At parties, we sometimes play games on the Wii, and we all play together, cheering each other on. The bad thing is if you just play on your own, which is not as satisfying.
    That sounds very much like I’ve been sticking up for video games. I’m not. Books are fantastic, amazing and widen thinking.
    One thing books can do is bring people together. I share all my books with my friends and we have a great time discussing them. Books take up far more of our lives than video games but we don’t spend all our time in a library.
    It’s more about a balance really, than choosing one or the other.


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