A Culture In Need of ENJOYABLE Books

Talking with some other #pulprev friends today, one of the best points brought up about stories in video games is that players often focus on the story because they don’t read.

I’ve made this point numerous times regarding video games and stories within them – if your goal is to tell a tight story, a game is not a very good medium. Gameplay is the art that is unique to games; this doesn’t mean you SHOULDN’T tell a story with a game, it just means that if your primary goal is a traditional, highly constructed story, you are better off writing a book.

Why is this?

Gameplay.

While gameplay can help tell a story in a unique way, if you just want to tell the story, the gameplay will disrupt that, even more so if your gameplay is not good on its own. Subjecting a player to boring or annoying gameplay to justify a CG movie packaged as a game is not my idea of a good time.

And yet, there is a big part of my generation and younger that seem willing to tolerate that.

They aren’t getting the stories they want through movies. They want the depth, the time with the characters, and the ability to really understand a setting.

Books do all of those things! So why aren’t they reading?! Do they just need cool aesthetics (in other words, should I be throwing money at illustrators for my fantasy books? – seriously, let me know)

I can’t answer for sure, but as a teacher I suspect that our approach to schooling, at least here in the USA, is to blame. Reading is a terrible experience for most kids, especially boys, during and after the middle grades. It gets worse into high school.

The books chosen for English class are not chosen because they are great reads. In fact, I’ve never heard an educator ever justify choosing a book for a class because it’s really fun to read, or the story is really good, or anything that is focused on delivering a good experience to the kids.

Instead, it’s always how the book is “important” in some social-political-cultural way. It represents some important time period, or is involved in some important social issue, or is written by a member of a marginalized group.

We’ve trained generations of people to hate reading – books are full of lame, boring shit, not fun stories like Star Wars! And our educators wonder why nobody wants to bother opening a book. Why would they when they’ve never seen a story they enjoy inside one, or seen so few they just don’t want to bother.

Kids (especially boys) ought to be reading Tarzan and Princess of Mars, Conan, The Hobbit, Earthsea, Hawkmoon… hell, they should be reading Vampire Hunter D. We should also teach through these books, but the furthest the education system goes for fun books is book reports. LAME.

Of course, to teach through these books, you’d have to convince all the literature majors that they are focusing on all the wrong things – good luck with that!

As a parent, I look forward to teaching my son through the stories that he actually likes.

Want to learn more about analyzing art and being creative, check out my newest book:

9 Comments

  1. It’s so good of you to be showing the importance of reading for children. I agree that many of the books which are suggested for school are as boring as saltines, and sometimes with dubious morality. The sad fact often is that there are many parents who check out of their children’s spiritual and intellectual growth letting their peers and instructors be the only guiding influence.

    • That’s the Prussian efficiency model to the extreme – you pack kids in 30 to 1 because it frees up 29 adults to work all day. It’s impossible to be separate from your children most of the day and not concede that the raising of them has been outsourced to a large extent. I feel like my generation had it particularly bad. We were almost all raised by peers and broken institutions while our boomer parents worked.

  2. David

    I was very lucky I had good teachers who introduced me to Watership down, the once and future king as well as the count of Monte Cristo which I later read in French.

    Deep down English lit high school is less about reading than to reassure English teachers’ social anxiety.

    They’re real intellectuals introducing real literature to young minds. The problem is thevprsentvthe dullest books in the most pretentious and obnoxious manner possible

    xavier

  3. EDIT: Sorry that this became long winded.

    Personally, the main kind of games I play are JRPGs. They’re the only kinds of games nowadays that have good stories (I checked out of Western fiction years ago).

    – I love the stylized, anime-esque artstyle. The characters look great and are pleasing to look at. I love their wacky facial expressions and the visual gags. I love the over the top, iconic attack animations.
    – I love the voice acting. Great voice acting really brings the characters to life, sells me on the situation and the tone of the story, and delivers great jokes.
    – I love the melodic music. During a hype or an emotional scene, that one really iconic theme starts playing and it just completely sells it.
    – I like the gameplay of exploring the world. You can’t really “explore” the world in a book, or in a movie. You only see what is written on the page, or in a movie, only see the world from the camera angles picked by the director and the cameraman. But in a JRPG, you can actually walk around town, look beyond the cutscene camera angles, interact with the NPCs. It feels like a real place.
    – I like turn based combat. I can’t stand in the action combat of Western games. It always feels like a button masher, or the mobs are too grindy, or boring. It’s not about making the right move, but making as many moves as possible. It’s just unappealing to me. But JRPG turn based combat is great. I can take as much time as I want picking my next move. It’s not about mindlessly inputting as many moves as possible and hoping for the best, but making the best move each turn. Plus, it’s cool seeing the characters pose, hearing them shout those ridiculous attack names, and the really cool attack animations. It’s also really satisfying to spend time trying to figure out new and interesting builds and strategies, and defeating really hard bosses using those strategies.

    “Books do all of those things!”

    When it comes to storytelling, I think there are several things games can do that books cannot. The foremost example that comes to my mind are the NPCs in the Trails series. In Trails, the NPCs aren’t throwaway, filler textboxes that you talk to once and forget about. They are characters with their own character arcs, just as fleshed out as the main characters depicted in the cutscenes.

    You have the story of the Fencing Club and their rom-com drama. You have a rom-com where a little girl, Mint, is trying to hook her uncle, Makarov, up with the music teacher, Mary. You have characters arcs like Wayne, who is a weak willed man, who grows over the course of the game, and a really satisfying payoff where he stands up to injustice and he becomes a temporarily playable character.

    There are too many great NPCs for me to recount. Those NPCs (who you do not have to interact with to continue the story) help enrich the game tremendously. When you interact with them, the protagonist actually has a relationship with them. Those interactions help flesh out and develop the protagonist as a character. You get to see the subplots and the character arcs of those NPCs develop. You get satisfying payoffs when those NPCs show up again.

    You can’t have that in a book. If those background characters and their subplots were in the book, the book would grind to an absolute slog. With so many faces, it’d be almost impossible for the reader to keep track of them all without illustrations. Those NPCs and their subplots would be cut because they aren’t essential to the main story. In a game, because those NPCs are optional, they don’t detract from the story. If you don’t want to spend time talking to them, you can just skip to the next main objective, but if you want more, you can always go up and talk to them.

    Another example of storytelling through gameplay. In Trails from Zero, the protagonists Lloyd and Randy find out that the bus to St. Ursula’s hospital is overdue so you go out to see what’s up, and then find it being mauled by man-eating yetis and people inside are screaming so you rush in, and then during the battle, on the Yeti’s first turn, the yetis maul the bus and you see its health drop a huge percentage and you’re like “holy crap I have to save these people!” It’s a small detail, but it’s powerful. If it was in a cutscene, I wouldn’t care as much, because it was out of my control, but because it happens during gameplay, when I am in control, I feel responsible each time they attack the bus. It feels very motivating.

  4. David,

    Bingo! You said it so well. Parents need to give their public-schooled kids books they will WANT to read. Once again, our wonderful educational system we’re told is the envy of the world and just needs more money FOR THE CHILDREN produces sub-optimal outcomes opposite of all the stated intentions. It really makes a fellow think.

  5. I believe books are deliberately chosen to be soul-stifling; they don’t want you to read lest you find how hollow modern culture is.

    On education: the Prussian system is what is in use and it’s designed to produce good little automata that will do whatever the State tells them to. Read the linked articles:
    https://subcreated-worlds.com/2018/08/21/the-insidious-brick-works-of-american-education/

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