Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Video Games Vs. Books

Kids these days have much shorter attention spans.

Kids these days are easily bored.

Kids these days don’t like effort.

All of the above is clearly nonsense. And here’s why.


Anyone who has played video games, or has watched someone playing video games, can easily see the level of focus required, and the endless hours a gamer spends very much interacting with this form of entertainment.

Why? What is it about this medium that keeps kids glued to it in a way few things can? Hour after hour. And what do they say when they finish? That game was too short.

The key thing is that video games are goal oriented. You set out to achieve something. And you know what that goal is from the off. Give the player a clear aim, make it difficult to achieve, let them go. That’s all it takes to get them hooked.

Yes, flashy visuals and cool killcams can make fanboys’ hearts flutter. But some of the most popular games are the most  simple, from Pacman to Tetris to Angry Birds.

The difference between a good game and a bad one comes down to how you build from the start to the end. How steep is the learning curve? How hard is it to achieve the goal? What things you do different from other games in your genre, how you surprise the player and how frustrated you allow the player to get, all these things effect how engaged the player is.

Not that you should write your novel like a video game, but it’s good to know what it takes to trigger the synapses in the brain.

Have you made it clear what your character’s goal is? Have you made it difficult enough to be interesting? Does success lead to even harder problems? Do you leave the reader unable to resist starting the next chapter?

These aren’t just useful questions to ask if you’re writing children’s books, or thrillers, they apply in some degree to any narrative structure. Learning how to build scenes so the reader is ever more interested and more invested in reaching the end is a delicate balancing act. If it’s too easy and predictable, they will get bored. If it’s too complicated and impossible to navigate, that will also put them off.

Obviously there are big differences between books and video games, but one thing should be the same for both gamers and readers—they should reach the end and feel like they want more.
All comments and retweets appreciated. Cheers!

16 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That makes sense!
And on a similar note, I don't buy kids who say they can't concentrate in school but they can stare at a video game for hours on end.

mooderino said...

@alex-although bad video games get discarded very quickly. I remember a few teachers I'd gladly return for a full refund.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Interesting perspective! I never really thought of it that way. And this is someone who has spent way too much time playing Tetris and Angry Birds. :)

Sarah McCabe said...

It seems to me that the type of game most similar to books is the RPG. Many, many young people get seriously invested in all kinds of RPGs which often require a high level of meticulous attention and dedication. They are usually not linear, side quests being important and a need to explore being a common feature. More often than not, it seems, the player character starts out clueless of the big problems of the game and has to discover them before setting out on his mission.

The most popular MMORPG of today, World of Warcraft, launched with no overarching story at all, but was filled with many smaller stories in many areas.

Table top RPGs are structured so that someone is guiding the characters along in the story and the characters never really have control of what is happening. Exploration, making the proper choices and managing to react correctly to situations are important.

Just a few thoughts.

mooderino said...

@Madeline-ah tetris, a simpler time.

@Sarah-It's interesting that immediate short term goals are what get things going whether you know what the overarching purpose is or not. Often in novels by aspiriing writers, it tends to be all about building up the main story while characters don't do very much (scene setting, backstory, etc). Starting with an immediate problem, not necessarily huge or related to the main storyline, would be a much better way to pull the reader in, I think.

mshatch said...

ah, if only there were do-overs in life, as there are in games. I can think of many moments where I would've liked to have gone back to a previously saved game...many.

Mina Burrows said...

Goal setting is exactly right. For me, I really do need to put timelines to my projects. I tend to write and then stop and then repeat. Thanks for reminding Mood.

mooderino said...

@mshatch-frankly I might just restart from the beginning.

@mina-you're welcome.

Chronicles From The Man Cave said...

You know, I never thought about it this way, but it is true... and this rule applies to any form of writing, including writing if you are writing for movies or television as well.

You need to balance the set up with enough of dramatic hooks to keep the viewer interested so that he or she doesn't walk away from the series after one episode.

This is something that I definitely will apply when I get back into my writing. Excellent posting and brilliant in getting me to see past the stereo type thinking of this current generation. Bravo on more than one level.

nutschell said...

I think that's why I like Role playing games more than other senseless types of games--they actually have a story and I feel like the character in a book:)
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

mooderino said...

@Chronicles-cheers.

@nutschell-I have some lovely homes in Skyrim.

Nancy Thompson said...

I'll tell you what. Video games greatly improved my son's dexterity and fine motor skills which suffered from his Tourettes.

John Wiswell said...

I love both prose and videogames. It can be very interesting when they cross, such as by influencing narrative and world in Alan Wake, or by having direct crossover in the novels and games of The Witcher.

Margo Berendsen said...

Interesting that the most popular games are the simplest, no learning curve, but each level builds in difficulty. There are definitely some parallels here to a good book.

mooderino said...

@Nancy-this is what I spent my entire childhood trying to convince my parents of.


@John-I think the game as movie esperience they try to see us on is still a fair way off. But getting there.

@Margo-I think both require a sense of progression to hold the attention.

Anonymous said...

Very nice article. I personally look forward to reading more from your site.



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