If you recall my previous post, I promised a series of posts talking about video games — and almost promised a “why.”
It’s because of our Summer Reading theme: Level Up!
We chose this theme for its obvious video game connection — and to celebrate the Video Game Cave and the video game additions coming soon to our collection. (You can check out what we have so far here.) However, for those who are less video game inclined, it refers to upping your reading skills or skills in other areas: level up your cooking skill by checking out a cookbook or level up your knowledge of something by checking out a nonfiction book on that topic.
When those of us who chose the theme announced it, we admittedly got some raised eyebrows. Some folks expressed concerns. The Summer Reading program encourages kids to read during the summer so their reading stays caught up. Video games — to many people — feel like the opposite. But that’s not always true.
In fact, studies show that video games can help children improve their reading skills. Reading relies on language abilities and other abilities such as memory, inhibitory control (which just means being able to control your attention), and cognitive flexibility (which just means the ability to switch between tasks).
A study out of Italy found that some video games — particularly action ones — require quick decisions, usually under timed pressure, the need to maintain visual attention, the ability to switch between attentional states, and the ability to predict what will happen after a decision or action.
The National Literacy Trust out of the UK found in their research six key benefits to video games for young people (ages 8-18):
- They give them a route into reading and writing
- They improve confidence in their reading skills
- They immerse them in stories
- They support positive communication with family and friends
- They increase empathy and support well-being
- They engage reluctant readers with literacy
We see many of these benefits highlighted in video games’ visual novel genre. A visual novel tells an interactive story primarily through text.
Most video games feature some text, but visual novels tell the major parts of the story through dialogue or text you must read. In contrast, other games advance the story through gameplay and cut scenes. A visual novel game’s primary “action” is making decisions (think of them as a digital Choose Your Own Adventure novel).
Visual novels are most popular in Japan, but we are seeing them more and more here in the West. This is why so much of the art in these games is inspired by anime or manga.
Without traditional gameplay, visual novels need to rely heavily on their stories to keep the player engaged. This is why so many of these titles have especially deep stories. The game A Bird Story touches on loneliness, shyness, and coming of age. Forgotten, not Lost tackles the tough topic of dementia through the story of a farmer and his wife living in a medieval world. There are visual novels that talk about death and grief, too. But just as many are deep and introspective, plenty are lighthearted and fun, too.
Like any form of media, though, visual novels and video games, in general, come in all genres and contain all kinds of content, so parents, I encourage you to be invested and interested in what your children are watching, playing, or reading. You know your children best and ultimately know what is or isn’t appropriate for your family.
As I mentioned in my first post, my goal isn’t to take away from the power or importance of books. Instead, I simply want to share another option for consuming stories and to show that video games and books don’t need to be in opposition.
If your child is really into a game, you can use this opportunity to let them teach you how to play. People (not just kids) love sharing the things they’re passionate about, and love teaching people how to do the things they know how to do. Let them teach you the mechanics; even if you’re not very good, it will be an opportunity to learn something about what they are interested in and connect with them. Or maybe you’ll find out that you’re better at it than you thought!
Not into gaming? That’s okay — just make it a conversation. Ask them “why?” Is it the action? The characters? The time period it’s set in? Is it because it’s a mystery and they like solving the puzzle? Or is it because it’s slow-paced and introspective? Once you have dialed some of those things in, odds are that our youth services staff can find a book to match.
Their favorite game might be the gateway to what will become their favorite book.
Pasqualotto, A., Altarelli, I., De Angeli, A. et al. Nat Hum Behav (2022).