Books vs. Movies vs. Video Games

Reading fiction is constantly portrayed as a Really Good Thing™. Books engage your brain by forcing you to create the images for yourself in your own mind and interpret the deeper meaning behind the author’s words. Books are supposed to make you live longer because they keep your brain working. (If that’s true, then I’ll probably live forever.)

But is reading fiction better or more worthwhile than other modern forms of entertainment, like watching movies and playing video games? When I read fiction, I do it to relax and get lost in a story. (Sometimes I do it to study the author’s technique.) I don’t necessarily read fiction to give myself an intellectual workout or ponder the meaning of life, unless the book lends itself to those kinds of themes and ponders those questions. I don’t actively seek to deeply study the fiction I read.

It would seem like watching movies is more or less the same. Most people don’t watch movies to study them. They just want to relax and be entertained. Movies are supposedly more passive than books because you’re not envisioning the events yourself—it’s all right there for you on the screen. But I suppose that when you’re watching a movie, you’re doing the same as you would with a book: trying to anticipate what the characters will do next and possibly trying to analyze characters’ true motives or some deeper meaning.

Video games get the worst rap out of any form of entertainment. They are seen as complete garbage because many of them involve gratuitous violence, and they can suck you in for hours at a time. A movie lasts for 2 or 3 hours at the very most. A book lasts anywhere from 2 to 8 (or even more) hours, depending on how long the book is and how quickly you read. A video game can last for months, depending on the depth of the adventure, the number of side quests, and how long it takes you to figure out the game’s mechanics. Some video game veterans can beat complex games overnight, but for the most part (from what I’ve experienced), you can sink hundreds of hours into certain video games and not really have gained anything that is useful outside of the game world. Do video games cause you to ponder the workings of the universe? For me, no.

Many argue that because video games are games, they keep your mind working because you’re trying to figure out the rules of the game, develop a strategy, and complete the quest. Games teach problem-solving skills, but do they do that in the same way a book or movie does? A book or movie wraps up the problem neatly at the end (in the best case), but a video game leaves that responsibility to the gamer. You are in charge of your own destiny in a video game, so perhaps video games are more valuable than they seem.

I suppose it all depends on what kinds of books you read, games you play, or movies you watch. A deep fiction book like something by Faulkner is obviously more valuable than Grand Theft Auto V. A thought-provoking movie like Inception is more worthwhile than one of those cheap regency romance novels, and a video game like Myst or a similar strategy game is superior to a movie like Fifty Shades Freed. I would argue that any movie or video game is better than any book supposedly written by a reality TV star. But “better” or “more worthwhile” even depends on the particular person reading the book: a certain person may get deeper meaning out of Doom than from Love in the Time of Cholera, and the video game may honestly be a better use of time for that person.

Books will always be my favorite. I get so little out of movies and video games most of the time—I guess I’m not really a “visual” person in that sense. But that doesn’t mean that books are inherently superior. What do you think?