Friday, February 11, 2011

The Depiction of Videogames in Novels

There is something quite unfortunate about the depiction of videogames or pretty much anything having to do with computers and internet in novels.

The starting point always seems to be a quite self-conscious conception especially from authors of children's literature that videogames keep children from reading books and in essence produce dumb people. That is a harsh prejudice that is simply not justified. Children these days will read books or they won't. Videogames are not going to change that, you might as well blame TV for the decline in sophistication. And true enough, when TV was at its advent the older media had a very critical view of the new media on the block.

Furthermore, even though I have to admit it is only a small exception, some games are in their narrative and psychological framework just as brilliant and sophisticated as a good movie or even a novel. Sadly, these works of course remain in the minority but if you have a look at any medium you might find an overabundance of trivial narratives and flat characters anywhere.

But even if you disregard the very sceptical and sometimes downright condescending point of view of the author, oftentimes the depiction of videogames is ridden with silly mistakes that make it very obvious the author probably has never touched a videogame with a ten foot pole. I vividly recall one instance where a new game was installed on the pc by putting a new microchip on the motherboard. Ridiculous.

Then I remember a novel series that was entirely set in a bleak future in which social power is earned by successfully fighting in a MMO type of game. The depiction of the MMO game within the novel was actually very accurate, so much that it poked fun at typical behaviour of MMO players, such as grinding or power gaming. On the downside the narrative soon lost itself in the most terrible and dumb Mary Sue characterisation. If I want to play an MMO game, I go and play. If I want to read a book I do so. I do, however, not see a point in reading a book about people playing MMO games, assumed that the narrative doesn't offer any other interesting points, which it sadly didn't in the admittedly brief time until I lost my patience with the book series.

I have yet to read a believable and also interesting depiction of a videogame in a novel. Most of the time the author tries to cram in some kind of message about how videogames are evil and are programming the young generation to be killing machines. Sadly, even Terry Pratchett's novel Only You Can Save Mankind seems to be one of those novels and even though I usually love reading Pratchett I can't bring myself to give that book even a try. Maybe once videogames have become a respectable enough medium, such as it happened with film, people are able to write about them in a reasonable and realistic enough way.

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