Motoko Rich’s article “The Future of Reading,” published in today’s New York Times, discusses the emerging trend in publishing and education of reaching out to young readers via video games. According to the article–
Increasingly, authors, teachers, librarians and publishers are embracing this fast-paced, image-laden world in the hope that the games will draw children to reading. Spurred by arguments that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print, libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, while schools are exploring how to incorporate video games in the classroom. In New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting efforts to create a proposed public school that will use principles of game design like instant feedback and graphic imagery to promote learning.
Loyal readers will recall that last year I wrote quite positively about the MacArthur grant to promote gaming literacy. However, the trend detailed in today’s article seems like a big step in the wrong direction. While graphic design and computer programming are vital skill sets we should be teaching our kids, trying to hook them on reading through video games is altogether different. It smacks of cheap gimmickry that dismisses outright that reading might be a pleasure unto itself. In an age when the majority of college students can’t handle complex but necessary reading tasks and high school illiteracy rates are woefully underreported, trying to hook kids on books with Dance Dance Revolution just doesn’t seem like a great plan. If anything, it’s yet another step in the dumbing-down of America, a land increasingly hostile to anything with a hint of intellectualism–reading included. No wonder the Nobel Committee are such dicks to the U.S. Buried at the end of the article, luckily, is a voice of reason–
“I actually think reading is pretty great and can compete with video games easily,” said Mark S. Seidenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who specializes in reading research. “So rather than say, ‘Oh, books are irrelevant in the modern era because there are all these other media available,’ I would ask shouldn’t we be doing a better job of teaching kids how to read?”
Professor Seidenberg seems like a wise and reasonable man. Let’s hope that we can get this country back on track and realize that the skill sets needed to survive and compete in a technological world do not replace but rather augment traditional literacy. Video games are great entertainment but it’s hard to imagine that they could ever trump the depth and breadth of philosophy and cultural currency contained in literature. Let’s not cheat our children out of that heritage by mistakenly believing that they cannot be taught to access it.