I attended Games for Change Festival 2013 earlier in the summer and the number of educational games entering the market astounded me. Some games are trying to interest kids in books, while others are helping kids learn math and science. While I have no problems with the latter, the former seems incredibly offensive to any gamer.
Notice, I did not say a game that is teaching players to read, that is an educational game, I'm talking about games that help kids enjoy reading books. On the outset it's not a bad thing, books are great, although this sort of game says something about games themselves. A game that tries to get players to love books is saying that books are a higher form of "art", "culture", or "leisure". Why can't games be "art"?
I'm not claiming that books are not a form or "art" or "culture" or anything of the sort, although I am claiming that they deserve to be equal with games. If you are going to say that we need games to get players interested in books because many young gamers might not want to read, it is important to understand the reasoning behind this. Are we trying to educate kids in the "arts" and "culture"? If that is the case then we should also have books that teach help kids enjoy games because they are just as much an art form as books.
Unless we have books that help readers enjoy games, we are stating that books are a higher form of "art" or "culture" than games. Where does this superiority come from? Why do we need books to teach kids narrative and not games or movies? It seems these two art forms (but games to a greater extent) have been deemed a lesser art form than literature, music, or visual art.
Society views games and movies as a waste of time, instead of as an art form. Where are the classes in elementary school that teach kids about classic games or movies? Why do kids have to learn the literary, musical, and painting classics and not classic games or movies?
"Culture" and "art" are evolving and we are not evolving with the times. We are stuck in a society where we think only literature, music and visual art have cultural value, while games and movies should be left to rot, or lightly touched upon when in conjunction with a book. I watched more than a few Romeo and Juliet movies, but what about playing Dantes Inferno to contrast with the book? Where are the games?
There is also a distinction between playing games, learning about games, and making games. Perhaps kids should learn to create games alongside art, or learn the history of videogames alongside art history. Anything that people study with literature can be studied with games. If someone is studying how culture reflects history, we can study how games are influenced by events around them. For example, in post 9/11 war frenzy, EA vilified the GLA in Command and Conquer Generals to mock Middle Eastern terrorists. It was overly stereotypical of the Middle East, and while Im not passing judgment on it, I am only arguing that it was a product of a certain era, the same way paintings are influenced by world events.
We don't need games to help players fall in love with books; we need games that help players understand that games are an art form. It's time to start viewing games as a form of art on the same level as literature. They are equals in the realm of culture and it is time we embrace that.