There’s something truly magical about getting sucked into that perfect story—be it fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery, thriller, or some combination thereof. But while a lot of people love reading, some people have trouble getting into a book or sustaining interest. Sometimes, video games are more their thing.
Either way, people claiming that those who play video games aren’t really reading are overlooking a long line of story-based games. From fantasy games like The Legend of Zelda and Skyrim, to mysteries like L.A. Noir, players have to do a lot of reading if they expect to get anywhere. And while they read, they’re expected to do other things—solve problems and puzzles, find hidden objects, respond quickly to changing events, all of which have been shown to have positive cognitive effects. Some games even tie in with novels to further engage with an audience.
Video games, in particular text-based adventure games, can in fact fulfill the same purpose as reading, but with the change in format comes a different way to engage. There’s something especially satisfying about finishing a challenging quest or solving a complicated puzzle, and that satisfaction can keep a person doing puzzle after puzzle for hours. For people who struggle to keep their focus on a book, this method can keep them reading far longer than even the best novel.
Moving from quest to quest, talking to everyone you meet (in case they have information or items you might need) gives the reading a direct purpose and reward. If you talk to this villager, you’ll gain information you need to defeat the final boss. If you skip reading that bit of dialogue, you might miss out on an important weakness or hidden shortcut. This direct engagement often encourages people to keep going, challenging them to continue even when it gets difficult.
In this vein, the wildly popular and much talked about Pokémon GO incentivizes going outside, walking around, and socializing with others. Countless campaigns have tried to convince children to play outside, and all it took was giving them something to do instead of telling them to “go out and play.” Even in the heat of summer, even in the desert, kids, teens, and adults alike are playing outside and even learning about local landmarks through the game’s interface. People with depression are finding reasons to leave the house, people with social anxiety are talking to strangers with minimal discomfort, and animal shelters are using the game to get their dogs walked (and even adopted). Across the world, Pokémon GO is changing the way people look at the things around them.
The wider-reaching effects came as a surprise to many, although several games like it were launched before with great success. Alane Adams released her game BattleKasters in order to inspire interest in both reading and her Legends of Orkney series. BattleKasters utilizes location-based functions and provides something engaging to do during conventions. Instead of catching Pokémon, players can collect virtual character cards connected to The Red Sun. The game’s success during conventions in the days before Pokémon GO suggests that this kind of result is connected to the style of game itself as much as the content it provides.
Other similar games have been released with similarly positive results, both those that connect players with their location and those that connect books with another form of media. On the flipside, games like “Mass Effect” and “Halo” (among countless others) have tie-in novels written about their unique worlds, offering fans a deeper look at the world and story that they were so immersed in during gameplay.
Another type of game has been slowly gaining popularity, though not in the mainstream. Visual novels are a lot like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but with continuous illustrations and without all the page flipping. Many of these games are at least as long as a short story, and are generally as long as a novella. Their stories vary widely from creator to creator, like any written story. With different game making software available online, anyone with an idea and some determination can learn to make one of these games. Some knowledge of coding certainly helps, but many of the software have tutorials and guides to help novices make their game, from designing the start screen to formatting the story itself.
For people who struggle with reading, especially those with ADD, this kind of story telling can be more engaging and more compelling. Where novels might not grab a kid’s attention, sometimes a game can have more impact—player choices make the story more personal, and make the consequences feel more immediate than those in a novel. Games can be more immersive and involved than a novel, though some people find the reverse is true.
Maybe a game like BattleKasters makes someone want to read The Red Sun, or L.A. Noir inspires someone to pick up a book by Raymond Chandler, or Skyrim gets someone to read Tolkien. Maybe someone plays “Halo” or “Mass Effect” and chooses to follow up with the novels. Maybe the game is just a fun way to pass the time. Regardless of preference, books and games both have an incredible way of reaching people with new stories, and losing yourself in one or the other is one of the best ways I know to relax during time off.