Thursday, 12 May 2005

That's It Fer The Book Learnin'

Speaking of computer games, Steven Berlin Johnson has a new book out called Everything Bad Is Good for You where he makes the case that playing games can be good for your brain. He even compares it favourably to books, imagining what the outcry would be if games had been invented before books:
Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page....
Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children....
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you.... This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one.

He also makes the point that, despite fears that television is dumbing down, the average TV drama is more complex than ever before. He gives The Simpsons as an example, saying that the the viewer has to do a certain amount of "filling in" with each episode. That is, the viewer has to have a fairly broad view of popular culture, politics and current events in order to get all the jokes. The assumption here, I guess, is that because some clever, creative people have put in all those things the onus is on us to understand all their references, you know, rather than just laughing every time Homer says "D'Oh".

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