I cannot live without books
– Thomas Jefferson
Video games are fun diversions, a good way to connect with friends and family, and a marvel of technology. They also pale in comparison with the human mind, are lonely, often have weak stories, and cannot communicate grand ideas nearly as well as books. Books are simply much better.
Books Are Far Cleverer
Strategy games sometimes engage players to found, grow, and expand an empire over time. The well-known Civilization series is one such example. Yet a perennial problem with these games is the inability of the artificial intelligence, or AI, to realistically mimic human behavior. AI cannot mimic diplomatic encounters in a human way, but it only responds to human interaction in specific, mathematically informed ways. AI makes game moves on the basis of logic, of ifs and thens. When Civilization emulates international diplomacy, its AI mimics human emotion by mathematical calculation.
When you play a game, you can only suspend your disbelief for so long. Sooner or later, you realize that you not playing an opponent but a calculator.
Books, though not always even in quality, are far more clever than games. A writer can carefully, construct characters whose interactions with each other both satisfy and perhaps even uncover human emotion to a depth that you have never experienced in life.
I remember reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road some time ago, expanding my ability to feel the indelible devotion that a father can have for his child. Had I not read McCarthy’s work, I would not have stretched my emotional ability and grown in my ability to experience life as I now can.
C. S. Lewis speaks about real life in his Screw Tapeletters, about how people never question what is real. And yet the word of books, of ideas, can sometimes teach you things that are more real than so-called real life. So-called real life may simply teach you to accept cultural norms, which are in fact not true, not real. Books may dissuade you of your willful unknowing by stretching your stubborn mind to experience a taste of reality, a taste you would never have had without first having read a book.
Books Are Far Less Lonely
Video games are lonely. If you win against a computerized opponent, you’ve won against mathematical logic. No one knows, nor cares that you won. If you win against another player online, a statistic is lodged, loot is won, and then an expansion pack is released and nobody cares anymore. Your glory dies with the release of the next MMO, with the death of your online clan who no longer play, and with the death of carefully crafted competition, something which online video games often so sorely lack.
AI doesn’t care if it wins or loses. MMO Players are transitory. You are, in effect, alone. The illusion of community lasts for a while, constantly re-hidden behind the veil of new expansions, patches, and other kinds of releases. Newness often covers the obvious loneliness of it all.
A book is your friend. A book cares if you read it, at least its author does. A book can portray humans with all their real interactions in ways that a game never can. They are carefully crafted words, which an author infuses his soul into. When you read, you are in a conversation. You write notes in the margin or argue with the author in your head about the book. You imagine worlds never before seen through the eyes of a point-of-view character.
In short, books are a better friend than a game can or will be.
Books Tell Better Stories
Some video games tell beautiful stories, but stories need to be adapted to gameplay. The great detail of Tolkien’s Middle Earth or King’s Mid-World will never be unearthed in the same way in a video game. Digital representations of worlds may appear in a game but only as slaves to the player’s gaming experience.
A good game needs good gameplay. Story is often secondary to the quality of a game.
In a book, story is king.
I am sucker for a good novel. Fiction, fantasy, and science fiction are among my favourite genres. The power of fiction, the power of a good writer is to create a new world for you to visit. You can sit in your backyard reading books all summer and visit more places than you ever could have had you traveled the world by air.
A good writer not only opens up a new world for you to experience but also a new way to understand people. One of the realities of being human is that we are situated in one geographical location. We learn and live on the basis of what is front of us. A good book lets you see through someone else’s eyes, to experience a culture different from your own, to experience a kind of suffering or a kind of elation that you may never experience had you not read a book.
I can think, for example, of Corrie Tenboom’s story The Hiding Place, in which she details how her family hid Jewish persons from Natzis. Or, I consider how Joseph Conrad so powerfully narrates the ivory trade in the Congo in his Heart of Darkness. Each story transfers you from your own place in the world to somewhere other, somewhere outside of yourself.
Books simply tell better stories than a game does.
Books Are Far More Beneficial
Some games communicate great ideas of life, of death, of friendship, and of struggle. But the ideas are sometimes wasted because the primary goal of a good game is entertainment, of gameplay. The game Deus Ex may portray the real issue of corporate control over the state, of technology and humanity, but it does so in service of a game—to be fun. The ideas are subservient to the gameplay, and are often muted.
A good idea takes time to ponder; it takes time to reflect on what the idea might mean to you and to life. A game does not provide you that luxury, because a bug monster will attack in you two minutes after you are exposed to a grand idea.
I remember reading J. I. Packer’s The Logic of Penal Substitution in college, being caught up in the grand ideas of the cross and redemption. The idea of penal substitution continues to inform my thinking and my emotional life. In the main, a video game could not have the same impact or present the same grand idea as such a book.
Books are simply better than video games. Please feel free to play video games and enjoy them. But do not rob yourself of the wonder of a good book.