Books and Video Games: An Unlikely Alliance

A recent study in the journal of Trends in Cognitive Science shows how fiction in video games and books can make us smarter and more empathetic. Our brain improves from, “the process of engagement in stories, which includes making inferences and becoming emotionally involved, and partly to the contents of fiction, which include complex characters and circumstances that we might not encounter in daily life.” The benefits of storytelling is not confined to books, it can even be seen in some of the better video games of today.

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Video games are not that different from books. Despite all the innovations that have come from technology, the foundation in which books and video games rest is the same – storytelling. The first objection to this idea is: “Not all video games are based on a story.” This is true. These games are what I would consider to be “bad” games, games that have no substance, no narrative.

Games like Star Wars: Battlefront and Left 4 Dead literally have no narrative. They are games that exist for sensation and not immersion. There is little to no character development and the plot is virtually non-existent.

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On the other side of the spectrum we have games like Final Fantasy, Going Home, and The Last of Us whose story lines hold their own against some of the best books out there. Even though the best game narrative is still trivial compared to the classics, video games still have the ability to convey the aspects of storytelling in their own unique way.

Storytelling is why we love books. That is what makes us smarter and more empathetic. Following a story, no matter what the medium, that follows the decisions and consequences of characters over time is how we learn lessons about life. So don’t jump to conclusions about people who play a lot of video games, they are not too different from somebody who spends all their free time reading books.


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