What if Books Were Like Games

Steven Poole recently wrote a funny and short piece for the Edge magazine. It’s called Don’t Believe Everything You Read. He basically re-wrote some of the recent events in the gaming industry as if they happened in the book industry. Hilarity ensues.

Next door, rival Fourth Estate was pushing its own 3D display technology. “We think readers are bored with the same old flat words,” whispered its bug-eyed spokesman. “Lettering that is truly three-dimensional will empower a new level of immersion. Your favourite words – like, maybe, ‘plinth’ or ‘flange’ – will quite literally jump off the page.”

He touches on a couple of subjects seemingly quite alien to literature such as the power of publishers to own and control content, the constant attempts to merge games with other media or – as in the quote above – the blind belief for new technology to automatically provide better quality content. It’s a quite amusing thought experiment. Oh man, aren’t games just crazy? Heh, yeaaaah…

But wait! Looking closer, the comparison falls a bit flat. So for example, publishers have less control over the content of books today, but that wasn’t always the case. A hundred years or so, we had a very similar situation where authors had much less control over their work and publishers could make very specific demands, especially in the popular fiction genre. The respect towards the author as the driving force behind a work is something that emerged quite recently, after centuries of discourse.

Similarly, for a long time, books WERE actually considered as damaging for the youth. One prominent example is the book The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, released in 1774. The protagonist of that book commits tragic suicide due to unrequited love. Supposedly, some young readers were emotionally struck by the book and were driven into suicide out of sympathy for the protagonist. The book was banned in some places because of that. Many saw it as an example for the corrupting nature of literature. It was the Columbine Massacre of literature.

The part with 3D technology for books is amusing but the book industry actually moves towards technology-centric thinking right now. Just watch the iBooks presentation at the recent iPad keynote. We are sadly not that far away from this. With new technology come new problems. Comparing the breakdown of PSN to not being to able to read anything is a failed analogy, especially since we had a REAL similar incident already – the removal of 1984 from Kindle eBook readers by Amazon.

Finally Steven also commented on the tendency to merge games with other media, especially in order to establish their status of art. I must admit that this is probably the best part of the article. But even here we don’t need to go far to find analogies in other media. Movie adaptations of books are prominent examples of forms of entertainment being blended together. Early movies were often based on famous books or theater plays because movies were struggling with being recognized as art at that time.

So at close scrutiny, the games culture is actually not that different from other media. Of course, this doesn’t make things any less frustrating but there is a happy ending to be derived from Steven Poole’s article. If games aren’t that different they should sooner or later evolve into a much stable and more accepted status and we will look at these times and laugh about them in disbelief.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

One response to “What if Books Were Like Games”

  1. One A Day Picks of the Week – 9th to 15th August « rudderless

    [...] There’s a heartwarming story about games testers from Ella Jensen that actually manages the difficult feat of making a tough job sound semi-attractive, while Krystian Majewski ponders the question “what if books were like games?” [...]


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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