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No Reading Required, Part 1: Video Games vs. Books

If you love reading books and reading about books, you've come to the right place: Powell's blog.

Unfortunately, you've come at a terrible time because I'm the guest blogger for this week, and I wrote a book called How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life. I wrote this book to help you, sad and lonely reader, lead a better life by putting away books forever. Since I've spent an entire year putting on paper why books suck, I thought I'd use the space here to tell you what you should be doing with your time instead of reading.

I know many of you think books are interesting and that quinoa is healthy and that children need "structure and discipline" instead of "soda and free drugs," but you're wrong. You're wrong about most things. I bet you also think crop circles are made by bored farmers rather than aliens trying to tell us that the overproduction of corn is destroying the entire solar system. HAHAHAHAHAHA! You have so much to learn. The point of this post is to help you lit-geeks take a break from your wine-drunk Roland Barthes read-a-thons and get back to what really feels good: fun (not the band "Fun" — they suck too).

In case you don't know, writing a book is as easy as taking candy from a baby horse (they don't have thumbs!), so I had plenty of nonwriting time this year to do other things. And the phrase "I'm writing my book" allowed me to bail on previously scheduled plans so I could do what's most important to me: play video games.

You probably think that makes me a sad person. You're right. But I engage in plenty of other activities that also make me sad: reading books, drinking scotch in a dark office, church. Video games are just one of many vices to put me in a bad place.

Let me try to put this in terms you bookfreaks can understand: playing a video game feels like the eureka moment of discovering something new in physics without all the pesky research and historical notoriety. Wouldn't you love your brain to light up three times a minute without wearing out your eyes? Gamers can sometimes play for 10 to 15 hours a day without pausing or talking to the many moms doing their laundry while they play. When was the last time you read a book for 15 hours straight, huh? And how many times did you get an adrenaline rush or a feeling of euphoric brilliance from solving a puzzle of some kind? And when was the last time you called your mom just to say thanks for how much she did for you when you were a child? If you're a reader, probably very few times this week. But, if you're playing an action game like Batman: Arkham City, you can have the orgasmic rush of finishing a great story every few seconds. And if you play enough video games, you'll end up moving back in with your mom so you can talk to her every day!

Books are a lot like video games: both are enjoyable alone, both cause panic attacks in youths, and both have kept me from writing. But every time I hear someone say video games are a waste of time, I realize I am talking to a human when I could be at home upgrading my Demon's Souls character so I can finally enter a covenant with the Goddess at Anor Londo and become the Blades of Chaos so that I may reign over players who have disrupted the— Oh, sorry. I thought you knew what the hell I was talking about.

I wish being pretentious about video games was as cool as being pretentious about books. Like: "Could you pass the gouda, please? This Marvel vs. Capcom soirée has me famished!" or "I would love to tell you my thoughts on the derivative nature of new defend-your-castle games, but you likely haven't played many of the originals, so I see no point in talking to you." But these sentences are never uttered outside of E3. My lit-snob friends are never together with my video-game-snob friends, even though they are perfect for each other. Really, what's the difference between an encyclopedic knowledge of Emily Dickinson's poetry and knowing every caste in Final Fantasy Tactics?

Don't answer that! Instead, just know this: if you're not into gaming at all, I sincerely think you're missing something, so I have taken the time to give you a few examples of books you might like, and their correlating video game (I've included a few Better Book Titles in case you need a quick summation of the books referenced):

Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Fallout 3

Both are about survival in the post-apocalyptic landscape. Some of the imagery is exactly the same. Underground vaults full of people to cannibalize, thieves and snipers around every corner, people who have given up all hope. The only difference is, The Road is a love note to Cormac McCarthy's son. It's a peach of a novel compared to the darkness that envelopes some of his other work. Fallout 3, if you play your cards right, has a little more of a last-man fantasy where you can do anything you want to anyone, and if no one is there to see it, you're free to continue pillaging, consequence-free. If you're a kind person who likes saving children and not robbing the destitute, it will flow a little more like the novel.

Jack Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World and Sid Meier's Civilization IV

Stemming from a tiny hut by the side of the river, you build/expand/micromanage a whole society's actions, until you're strong enough to enter foreign civilizations and take them over. That's basically what Genghis Khan did! The most fun way to play this game is to read this book and play the game as Genghis Khan (he's a character in the game). Most history lovers will like this game. Be forewarned, though: if you're a history student, a successful campaign will mean that your country develops most landmark technologies. You don't want to play it to the point where you hand in a college paper about how Stalin invented the internet just after Gandhi won the space race.

Raymond Chandler Novels and Heavy Rain

Suspenseful, dark, dreary. A noir suspense about child abduction, the whole game follows multiple narrators on what is essentially a long movie where you tap a button or two each minute and make choices of what to say or do next. A great game for people who haven't played many games. Do Chandler readers like video games?

The Alchemist and Okami

This game is about a magical wolf who uses a paintbrush to alter reality. It sounds really stupid, but it's great. It's very nature-loving and full of trippy, funny battle sequences where you fight amorphous scroll-covered people. There's a lot of talk about fulfilling a destiny and making the world yours or whatever The Alchemist is about. If you're on some sort of spiritual journey and like beautiful images and parables, this is the game for you.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and World of Goo

This is a goofy, surreal puzzle game that kids could play but is fun for adults too. It's a physics-based puzzle game where you build structures out of strange bubbly living creatures. I think it reminds me of Roald Dahl because of its limitless weirdness and how unnecessarily dangerous all the objects in the factory levels seem.

Ulysses and Dark Souls

Dark Souls is a nearly unbeatable game that requires reading the strategy guide to beat it. What is The Annotated Ulysses if not the strategy guide for defeating Ulysses? You should also know a lot about other role-playing games before starting this one. It's just like Joyce in that you need to know a lot about various other things before you can even touch this.

Where's Waldo or Magic Eye Books and Katamari

If you're a child who loves colors (or an adult who loves marijuana), this is the game for you! You roll a sticky ball around, collecting only objects that are smaller than the ball, until the ball is big enough to pick up buildings and whole planets. You get the picture.

One last note: For those of you who need to move the opposite direction from video games to books:

Tom Bissell's Extra Lives and Jeff Ryan's Super Mario are great pieces of nonfiction. Adam Ross's Mr. Peanut features a game developer moving from developing games to piecing together a novel (or is it yet another game?), and Skippy Dies dips in and out of a fake RPG world throughout the novel. These are all wonderful books about gaming.

÷ ÷ ÷

Dan Wilbur is a comedian, a writer, and an avid video game player living in Brooklyn, NY. His writing is featured on, McSweeney’s, and the Onion News Network. Dan is the creator and editor of Better Book Titles. His first humor book, How Not to Read, will be published by Perigee (Penguin) on September 4.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Skippy Dies
    Used Hardcover $11.95
  2. Mr. Peanut (Vintage Contemporaries)
    Used Trade Paper $8.95
  3. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter...
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  4. Ulysses (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper $8.95
  5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:...
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  6. The Alchemist (Insight)
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  7. Genghis Khan and the Making of the...
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  8. The Road (Random House Movie Tie-In...
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  9. How Not to Read: Harnessing the... Sale Trade Paper $7.98

Dan Wilbur is the author of How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life

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