Monday, 17 October 2011

Books, videogames and imagination

Increasingly stories are capable of jumping media, particularly from books to videogames and vice versa. Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls have a number of fiction books set in the same world, there’s already one Game of Thrones game (a PC strategy game) with an RPG set for PC and consoles in the future.

Lord of the Rings, of course, is the ultimate fantasy example with three huge films, and a slew of videogames. It is rivalled by the Chronicles of Narnia, which has had some recent films and a great BBC TV series I watched as a child (the serpent moment is something that made a huge impression on me, I loved it).

A perhaps not widely known example is that Sonic the Hedgehog had four spin-off books by Martin Adams. They were some of the earliest books I can remember reading (my long term memory is shocking), and I remember learning about transmogrification, the fourth and fifth dimensions and time travel paradoxes from them.

One of the things I love about books is the imagination that’s needed to really enjoy them. When I really get into a book it’s a fantastic feeling. The author provides a blueprint for the world, but when a reader imagines the voices and sees the images described they’re unique to that one reader. Little changes to sentences (‘drooled’ becoming ‘dribbled’ adds an air of idiocy and/or infancy, and reduces the gawping lust of the former) can make substantial changes to meaning and the impression the reader gets and the mental picture they subsequently draw.

Although reading’s not really seen as an interactive activity (you get given all the words and read them, in order, occasionally turning the page) I don’t think that’s accurate. Readers take different things from exactly the same books, or even sentences, and readers’ imaginations play almost as great role for them as the authors’ writing.

Videogames are the exact opposite. The voices are supplied by actors (and, being an audio more than a visual person, I bloody love good voice acting), the scenes are described in often tremendous detail and although some games offer great freedom of action it’s almost as limited in storyline terms as an actual book (albeit a bloody enormous gamebook).

Games are more obviously interactive and less relaxing/more exciting, but rely far less on imagination. I think that this is one reason why getting people reading, particularly inculcating the habit early on with kids, is such an important thing. Books provoke thinking, imagination and are absorbing and relaxing. Games are stimulating and exciting, but if overdone (especially at a young age) can leave the player with a short-attention span and less able to take things slowly.

Happily, one side-effect of the e-Reader is that they’ve prompted a pretty rapid growth in the sale of e-Books, which can only be a good thing.


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