Are Video Games the New Literature of the 21st Century?

Video games are outselling movies and many players and manufacturers have claimed that video games are the new literature of the 21st century. As a diehard book lover, this state of affairs intrigues me.

The first thing I did to understand this phenomenon was to read several books on the subject. The one that answered my questions is Chris Kohler’s Power Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life (BradyGames, 2004). Kohler has been playing video games his entire life, taught an undergraduate course on video game history at Tufts University, and received highest honors for his undergraduate thesis on Japanese video games. Kohler turned his thesis entitled The Cinematic Japanese Video Game into the book Power Up as a Fulbright Scholar to Japan. I feel compelled to provide this information to prove that you can play video games and learn how to read. In fact, you can even become a respected scholar as Kohler has done.

Kohler gives us the clue to understanding how videos games are becoming literature when he described them as cinematic. Just as films have genres like literature so do video games. Narrative and sound, especially music, encourage video game players to advance goal-to-goal or level-to-level in games where players can role play in 3D settings now. Players “beat” the game by bringing it to a narrative conclusion according to Kohler.

Video games can now be educational, recreational, and/or both. The fact that many video games are programmable and foster teamwork make them especially important for training in the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century.

Kohler quotes a sentence from Marshal McLuhan’s book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man that sums up why readers should seek at least one video game recommendation and play it:

The games of a people reveal a great deal about them.

I just wonder if today’s video games will become like the one depicted in Ray Bradbury’s short story The Veldt.

Originally posted on Ruth Paget’s blog