Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A thorn in the flesh?

The extent of my experience with video games: playing Crash Bandicoot and Jeopardy with my sister and friends on our PS2 in high school, plus a game or two of Rock Band at a frat house in college. Add to that many a couch-side observation of frantic, near-foaming male friends' tooth-and-nail battles on the faux-football field or -race car track, and that about does it.

But the recent trend of video game adapatation of literature may force me to acquaint myself more familiarly with the console. This past November, MediaBistro blog GalleyCat cited the B&H Publishing Group's creation of Bible Navigator X, a Bible Reader for Xbox 360. Yes, you read that right. According to Aaron Linne, B&H Publishing Group's executive producer of digital marketing:

"The Xbox isn't just secular entertainment anymore. We can use technology that other people developed to study Scriptures through a new medium. Some people are just more comfortable with a controller in their hands than a book."

The application is available for $5 or 400 Microsoft Points, the currency of the Xbox Live marketplace. Bible Reader users can search, bookmark and adjust settings for big screen readings or customized reading themes.

My initial reaction was skepticism at the sacriligious undertones of manipulating the Bible with technology normally reserved for gory car theft games and virtual wrestling matches. But, really, how different is this venture from the Kindle's digitization of texts, or "cellphone novels" written with and read on mobile phones? (Among best selling novels of the last 3 years, 4 of the top 10 novels in Japan were written with cellphones, like the entire bookcase's contents below.)

The video game lit genre is here to stay: Electronic Arts and Random House recently teamed to release a video game version of Dante's Inferno, in which players can explore the circles of hell interactively in addition to on the page. Much like the vook, these video games meld literary quality and enhanced new media features with the aim of providing a rich, multi-faceted experience of a text. But unlike the vook, games allow readers to physically participate, justifying the hijacking of literature as raw material. Furthermore, the games aren't trying to edge out books from the publishing world, but rather supplement them.

Here's my video game aficionado friend Billy on yet another benefit of video game adapation of books:

"Ask a middle schooler or high-schooler if they remember anything about The Crucible, The Things They Carried, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1984, etc, and they won't be able to recount it with either the vividness or enthusiasm they'll be able to tell the story of Link and the Triforce (Legend of Zelda), the moment Sephiroth killed Aeris in front of Cloud (Final Fantasy 7), minute details about the T-Virus (Resident Evil), etc etc. All of these have intricate plots with the same kind of research, details, development, and copious amounts of dialogue one expects from either a book or movie. But you are far more invested."

Just as with every other new age form of literature I've addressed, these intellectualized video games will never replace tangible paperbacks for me. But I'm willing to cede their beneficially immersive treatment of text. I'll consider them less a thorn in the flesh of the publishing industry, and more an aggravatingly itchy tag in the back of my shirt.

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