Not too long ago, a classmate informed me that her three-year-old cousin’s school required its students to purchase an ereader because they would be using digital textbooks. Growing up in a time where an ereader was more of a bookwormish desire rather than a necessity, I could not fathom that someday a child would be required to own one for educational purposes. All at once, I remembered the days I used to help my own cousin practice his letters on ABC Mouse and various learning apps. A whole generation of children is learning to read from a screen rather than a book. What could this mean for the future of the publishing industry? For one, it means we can no longer ignore the influence of ereaders, audiobooks, interactive reading apps, and video games on future and current readers.
My casual interest in video games began as a college sophomore when I watched my friend navigate the world of Fallout 4. The more I watched him manipulate his character, The Sole Survivor, in his quest to find his son, the more I became fascinated with the story aspect of video games. Over time, he introduced me to more games and I realized some of them weren’t too different from reading a book. Of course, many video games require hand-eye coordination and repetitive actions, but a game can’t stand alone without some sort of storyline to give context for the missions.
The main difference between the two is interactivity. At their core, books and video games these days concentrate on storytelling. According to Michael Greer’s article in Publishers Weekly, a 2015 Pew internet study showed that 50 percent of male adults and 48 percent of female adults in the US play video games, with 10 percent considering themselves gamers. With such a large market, it would be reasonable to believe that video games are in direct competition with books. However, Greer disagrees. “Despite book publishers’ fears that mobile apps are a form of digital distraction, taking readers away from books, interactive digital media can actually drive readers toward text-based storytelling.” He uses the popular interactive fiction app Twine as an example. “Many Twine games are composed entirely of text. Some are also visual, but in many cases, a branching narrative composed of text is the final published product. As this shows, gamers are open to and interested in text stories.”
Games like Device 6, another popular interactive fiction app, or reading apps like Mediafire allow players to interact with stories in ways that transform reading into a participative rather than relatively passive experience. This could have a profound effect on the way we interact with stories. Imagine this in a school setting. I’ll the use upcoming Ooligan Press release Sleeping in My Jeans by Connie King Leonard as an example. Not only could a high school English teacher use a video game or interactive book version of the story to teach students about plot, theme, and point of view, but it would also give students the opportunity to actively participate in the decisions that the main character, Mattie, makes. It could replicate the sound of certain situations Mattie and her family find themselves in. Jonathan Ostensen gives a more detailed report of how video games offer new forms of interactive narrative. The possibilities are many. Nevertheless, not every book is meant to be translated into a video game. Most of the time, it just doesn’t work because ultimately it goes back to whether the story fits the medium.