Since I shot my first pixelated duck when I was five, I’ve always been a bit nuts about video games. This explains why the Dante’s Inferno game vexes me both for being literary blasphemy and a shameless clone of God of War. Equally, if you can believe that. And because I have this other pastime, this tidbit caught my eye:
Nintendo’s DS will soon function as an eReader. The 100 Classic Book Collection, which you purchase like any game for the peripheral, is a library of works from Austen to Dickens to Conrad. You turn the DS sideways and read the text on the dual screens, like you would a regular book (did I really just say that?)
So if it’s basically a game, who’s to stop Nintendo from imbuing the packaged books with some other conventions? Like
- You must first complete The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in order to unlock Huck Finn. (Unless you enter a cheat code at the title screen)
- Each book has an adjustable difficulty level. For example, Hamlet on Hard: “Unhand me gentlemen./ By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me!” Hamlet on Easy: “Let me go or I’ll kill you guys.”
- Time Attack Leaderboards are posted weekly on whomever finishes Ivanhoe the quickest.
Books on a gaming system. To many it seems like Nintendo, so often accused of draining our culture’s literacy, is making a noble gesture of… reparation, to use an extreme term. But I don’t think it’ll pan out that way.
You see, when my PS3 is in the room with my books, the PS3 wins. A lot. I’ve not been a very disciplined reader unless grades, money, or other incentives were involved, and nearby distractions have added to my troubles. I’ve accepted this as a reality of my habits and have taken measures to isolate myself from that instant dopamine machine.
And Nintendo would have books competing with video games right there on the handheld? That screws with someone like me. When Pimp Quest was on my graphing calculator back when I was in high school, I shot way more cops on my TI-83 than I drew parabolas. And that was games vs. mathematics–no freakin’ contest.
Incorporating books on multi-tasking devices like the iPad makes them more accessible in day-to-day life, and that counts for something, but will people necessarily read more because of that accessibility? I’m worried that ebooks might get buried in the digital toybox of distractions, nudged somewhere between Bejeweled and the app that allows you to flick open a virtual Zippo lighter.
My question is, would literacy fare better if reading is mostly kept as a separate function, as it remains on the Nook or Kindle or heaven forbid an actual paperback? That won’t happen–there’s no stopping the absorption of books into the electro-smorgasbord–but we’re talking in theory.
I would draw out a well-reasoned answer to this question, but I really need to go play Dragon Age right now.