22 Comments

Are we losing readers to gaming?

dragon_age_inquisition1If you listen to certain sectors of publishing and education, you’d be convinced that boys don’t read and we are losing our younger generation of readers to gaming. It’s not a new argument. Years ago, we were hearing that we were losing them to TV. The argument that we’ve been losing them to gaming has been around since the before the Nintendo NES. My answer now, as it was then, is that we aren’t asking the right question. Instead of asking if we are losing readers to gaming we ought to be asking why we might be doing so.

So, what is the answer?

First off, I’m not convinced we’re losing readers to gaming. Sure, a lot of folks would rather hook up their PS4 or Xbox One than crack a book. Part of the reason is that they can quickly become immersed in gaming in a way they haven’t figured out how to do with a book. Part of it is because a lot of what they are being required to read in school doesn’t interest them. After all, what normal kid, especially a boy, wouldn’t rather be playing pirate or space marine or race car driver instead of reading a book about a teen with mental illness or who is homeless? That’s especially true if the kid in question thinks about the reading or gaming time as part of their off-time, their non-school time.

In other words, kids – like adults – want to be entertained. While there is nothing wrong with reading about serious topics, for anyone to do so voluntarily, they need to be interested in the topic. It has to hold their interest somehow. That is something so many publishers and writers seem to have forgotten.

What brought this home for me – yet again – was following the so-called controversy that tried to attach itself to Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. At a time when Gamergate was starting to gather traction among certain people, there came condemnation of DA:I because it didn’t have a playable non-binary gender specific (or whatever) character. Which, if you know anything about Bioware was laughable. For years they have had characters in the RPGs that you could choose sexual preference for. Yes, there might be limitations on who you could “romance” in the game but, hey, you have the same limitations in real life.

But back to the point. The so-called controversy put DA:I on my radar. Now, I would probably have looked at the game at some point down the road because I’m a Mass Effect fan. I might not have liked the ending of ME:3 but I have always enjoyed Bioware’s RPGs. The previews and early reviews of DA:I were enough to put it on my “to buy” list. The manufactured controversy around the sort of playable characters had me getting the game sooner rather than later.

And, as suspected, the playable characters could be straight or gay or simply not interested in sex. No big deal and, in my mind, no controversy.

But it was the story in DA:I, like the story in the Mass Effect series, that drew me in. It is also what started me thinking once again on the question of why we might be losing readers to gaming.

The answer is very simple – in games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, the player is drawn into the story and cares about what happens, not only to his playable character but to the supporting cast. There is a connection forged between player and characters/game, the same sort of connection writers should be fostering with their readers and which is so often not done because there is more emphasis placed on writing socially relevant or “message” fiction.

Don’t believe me? Talk to gamers, young and old, who will put tens to hundreds of hours in a single game. Listen as they discuss what draws them to a game and why they keep playing. Those games they abandon are often games they find lacking a decent plot. This is something game developers have learned and they have taken steps to avoid in newer games. An example of this is the hiring of Rhianna Pratchett (Sir Terry Pratchett’s daughter) by developers like Crystal Dynamics and Irrational Games/2k to help write or write games such as Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite.

RPGs have really come into their own as plot driven adventures of the video kind. They give gamers stories and characters they can care about and become invested in. At a time when kids aren’t being taught how to read for enjoyment, at least not in schools, is it any wonder they turn to gaming for their “fix”?

So, no, we aren’t losing readers to gaming. We are losing readers because of the lack of “approved” books that are entertaining and that give the reader a reason to become personally invested in the plot and characters. We, as authors, need to pay more attention to the what and why instead of the woe is me.

Oh, and Dragon Age: Inquisition is very much worth the time and money. It is a game that is beautiful to look at and it has a story and characters you can enjoy being part of. The few glitches are far outweighed by the rest of it.

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About Amanda

writer, mother, owned by a cat and not necessarily in that order.

22 comments on “Are we losing readers to gaming?

  1. Yo know, I look at it the other way ’round. Each year, gaming finds and draws in millions of people to SF/F with beautiful setting, story, complex magic systems, battles, explosions, and humour. How, then, do we convert them to reading as well?

    But then, the semantics of “losing readers to gaming” indicates that they came preset and issued as reader, then were lost when they switched over. Given the state of our educational systems, I’d have to say that’s not the case.

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    • Dorothy, you are right, of course. I framed it the way I did because that is what we are being told by publishers and so many other authors. I won’t even start on the state of our education system because that is a rant and a half.

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      • Yes, there’s a reason I had a moment of unabashed glee when I heard Baen was going to hold their awards at GenCon. That was a truly brilliant move to say to 50K attendees, as well as their friends and gaming partners, online clans and assorted related people “We love you! We want you! Check out our nifty stuff!”

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    • Do the major awards even consider gaming to be a part of the SF culture yet?

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      • I’m not sure they do and I know much of “fandom” doesn’t consider gaming to be part of the culture yet. Which is a shame.

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        • That’s rather boggling, when I think on it. If it has spaceships, ray guns, aliens, AI, FTL, and suchlike, it’s science fiction to me. Summarily excluding other types of media sounds a lot like they’re not interested in growing the genre. Growing the genre means more potential customers, means authors get paid, means more awesome stories… What’s not to like?

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  2. So, basically, “Yes, when the games have better stories than the books.”

    Which is basically what my response was– there are a lot of gamers who utterly adore “The Lore.” Even if they’re not RPers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely. It is amazing the amount of lore that goes into some of the games — and how much can actually be read, either in-game during play or by going into your menu and reading it. Heck, I know a couple of games where there are “books” to be bought and, if you go into the coding, you can read them.

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      • Some of the scariest short stories I’ve read are in Everquest 2, and they’re *all* clickable items– usually it’s lore, but a lot of it is “just” color.

        And quests… yeah, there’s a lot of really horrible quest writing, where you see the “twist” from a mile away. There’s also some that makes you sit down and cry.

        Liked by 1 person

    • This is me for the most part. I looooove reading the lorebooks and tie-ins, especially to pencil and paper RPGs, even if I don’t get to play the games much themselves with other people (due to time and schedules, and now geography).

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  3. This is another reason that media tie-in is actually far more important to science fiction than some might think. Someone who plays Halo is far more likely to pick up a Halo book…for a time.

    Unlike a lot of SF fans, I didn’t grow up reading. ADHD, Dyslexia, and horrid books in school all conspired to make me just not enjoy reading. When I was home on leave after boot camp, I picked up a copy of Starship Troopers on a whim. I read it and enjoyed it, but then didn’t read for a while.

    Then I saw a Battletech book in the exchange. I loved the game (table top) and picked it up. Then another. And another.

    Before I knew it, I was an avid reader and was reading all kinds of other things. Military memoirs and science fiction mostly, but I gave a few other things a shot. A roommate turned me on to Raymond Feist, which brought me into fantasy.

    However, had I not been into a game and picked up a tie-in book, I’d probably not be much of a reader today. Meanwhile, there is a snobbish attitude in some circles that such works aren’t real fiction.

    Of course, to the fans that love the games and movies they’re based on, that’s ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom, I agree. I can remember a time when the only science fiction I picked up happened to be tie-in novels. They kept my interest in the genre at a time when not much else coming out of the publishing houses interested me. I love the fact there is so much science fiction out there now, thanks to indie authors, that values story above all else.

      My son had the horrible experience of having a teacher use reading for punishment. She completely destroyed the joy of reading we had worked so hard to instill in him. What brought him back were audio books and manga, followed by tie-in books of some of the games he liked. Then, when he hit high school, he had an English teacher who worked very hard to make reading fun for all his students. Now my son can’t get enough to read, at least when it comes to books like those written by Larry Correia, etc. But, according to those same who don’t understand the importance of gaming to science fiction, books by the likes of Larry aren’t “real” science fiction/fantasy either.

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      • I’ve been kind of luck in that regard. My son starts high school next year, and he still loves reading. So far though, he’s had the opportunity to read whatever books he wanted, so he has. Some he’s loved (he’s a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series), some, not so much (never could get through any of the Inheritance series after Eragon).

        Next year, however, he’ll be taking “literature” for the first time. I suspect he and I will have a lot of talks about what he’s forced to read at that point.

        Luckily, he’s got Monster Hunter International on his Kindle already. Hopefully, it’ll act like chlorine in the pool of his mind. 😀

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        • You are lucky. The teacher who almost ruined my son was his third grade teacher. It took years to correct the damage she did. Of course, as the year went on, it because very clear she hated boys, but that is a whole different can of worms. Fingers crossed your son has the sort of high school literature teacher my son did. If so, you have nothing to worry about.

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          • Yeah, well, I’m not holding my breath.

            Luckily, I also reminded him that he’s enjoyed reading all these books before, and he can keep enjoying books going forward. Even if he doesn’t enjoy THOSE books. I’m hoping that all his enjoyment of reading has been set in by now.

            Hopefully.

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    • “This is another reason that media tie-in is actually far more important to science fiction than some might think. Someone who plays Halo is far more likely to pick up a Halo book…for a time.”

      This. So very much. I know quite a few people who let themselves get talked into AD&D games and then started reading DragonLance books. Or my oldest nephew, who didn’t really read all that much until he started playing Halo and then discovered the books, and then discovered that there are books that don’t have anything to do with games(or Star Wars).

      Thing is, if you’ve got a kid in your life (or anyone else, really), that likes a game handing them a book that ties in to that game or is even broadly similar can be a very good thing, even life changing.

      And my nephew? I just introduced him to Prince Rodger and the Bronze Barbarians. I think it’s time he met Lt. Leary, Honor Harrington, and Miles. All because of the Master Chief.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yep. Media tie-in novels can be the gateway drug that gets them into people like Weber, Ringo, Correia, Hoyt, Williamson, Wright, and others. Then, eventually, they read Piper, Heinlein, Asimov, etc.

        Of course, some people get snobbish about it and think you should start with the classics or something.

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  4. My son (age 12) definitely prefers playing games to reading. He’s not opposed to reading, but picking up a controller is his “default setting” when he wants to entertain himself.

    I honestly don’t know if today’s gamers would have been readers in the past — or would they have just been watching TV shows?

    I DO know that sneering at games and gamers is not the way to encourage them to read SF.

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  5. I read more in gaming than I do in books, the words I read in gaming have more meaning than books because I’m not just an observer.

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  6. […] week I wrote a post asking if we are losing readers to gaming. One of the comments made me think and actually confirmed what I had been seeing for myself. There […]

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