Thursday, April 28, 2011

John Birmingham vs the zombies

(Hopefully by the end of this post I'll have done enough to justify the link bait)

I went to The Reader at State Library today -- an if:book Australia symposium on the future of writing, publishing, technology and readers.

There was a lot of food for thought, but Dale Spender's address 'New Reading, Same Heresies' really got me thinking, because it dovetailed nicely with something else I've been thinking about lately.

(Apologies for all the cliches -- brain is tired)

Dale talked about the history of reading, about how when the church controlled reading, it was a highly specialised thing. Only the select few could do it, it took 14 years to learn how to do it, and so on.

After Gutenberg, the church wasn't keen on everyone having access to books. Printing presses were smashed, books burnt.

Dale then went on to talk about how, at various times, reading has been portrayed as something that undermines society.

It got me thinking that that's not unlike how video games are percieved at the moment.

So, looking at books as a form of entertainment, and as a way of learning via something that is entertaining, why should reading be valued more highly than playing video games.

Take John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy and put it up against Left 4 Dead 2.

I'm sure that JB will tell you that Axis of Time is just an excuse to take bad-asses from the near-future and send them back to 1942 to blow shit up. But it also says a lot about how community standards have changed (for better and for worse) since the 40s.

Left 4 Dead 2. It's a video game, you take part in it. And yeah, it's mostly about taking to zombies with shotguns, pipe bombs and chainsaws. But if you play it right, it's a social game (it's designed to be played with friends). You learn about team-work, strategy, loyalty, betrayal and, if you're like me, how much you suck at it.

I value reading. I want my kids to read. Literacy is hugely important. But so are the things kids can learn from video games (not Left 4 Dead 2, but age-appropriate games). Technology is going to be even more important to our kids than it is for us. It's going to be an increasingly integral part of life.

What do you think? Is tech smarts as important as book smarts?

(PS: I thought about putting the zombies up against James Joyce, or Jack Kerouac ... is that a fairer comparison? What do we gain from ploughing through the classics -- that's the special bonus question)

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