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Forget about the book – there’s a video game

Submitted by on Monday, 6 October 2008 2 Comments

Maybe it’s partly out of lingering bitterness at having my butt kicked at PacMan during freshman orientation — hand-eye coordination never has been my strong point.

Whatever the reason, this trend of tying children’s books to video games alarms me.

Et tu, Scholastic? Even the publisher that’s pelted parents with fliers since I was a kid is getting in on it, releasing a series of books last month with a hook to an online game. It’s part of a “multi-platform adventure series.”

“With the breakthrough concept of The 39 Clues, Scholastic is uniquely positioned to reach millions of young people who are readers, gamers, collectors, or all three, and encourage them to participate in a multi-dimensional 21st Century reading experience,” Scholastic president of trade Ellie Berger said in a news release.

Apparently the break-through concept is gaining traction in schools. Last summer, a New York foundation forked over $1.1 million to help the Institute of Play create a sixth- through 12th-grade public school that will focus on critical-thinking skills and media literacy, using game design and game-inspired education methods.

I’d be cheering if they stopped at critical thinking and media literacy.

Instead I’m thinking — half-amused, half-appalled — about potential game tie-ins with books I loved as a kid.

Guide Scarlett as she flees the flames of Sherman’s raid. Pick a character who knows something about birthin’ babies to midwife Melanie through labor.

Help Laura and Pa Ingalls put up hay in preparation for “The Long Winter.”

None of that cuts it for me. I can’t see a video game making me shiver in the July humidity as it recounts the Ingalls family battling blizzard after blizzard.

I get that this is a different, digitally inclined generation. Saw proof in my own house yesterday when I bought a digital audio recorder and promptly lost possession of it for the rest of the night, as Big Guy rushed to record everything from jack-o-lantern instructions to an episode of “Scooby-Doo.”

That’s an updated version of an ancient pursuit. I did the same thing with a cassette recorder when I was a kid, creating many a radio “broadcast,” except I was much older when I started.

The guys will grow up learning to use technology in ways that didn’t exist when I was a kid. That don’t even exist today, for that matter.

Still, I worry that they guys would lose something by immersing themselves too much in the fast-paced video world.

Important things, like the ability to complete a task without the instant gratification of congratulatory flashing lights and beeping bells. Or the ability to explore the world beyond a screen. Who knows, though. Maybe by the time they’re my age the world will be the screen.

Most of all, I worry that what while they’re enjoying the benefits of “improved critical thinking” they’ll fall short when it comes to learning to analyze beyond what’s in front of their faces in that split second.

And let’s not forget all the studies that show a link between entertainment gaming, poor performance in school and obesity.

There can be benefits to video games: Apparently they create great skills for future surgeons. But when 8-year-olds are toting gameboys and Wii becomes a substitute for fresh air and exercise, I suspect we’ve gone too far.

And I really wouldn’t want the guys to reach the point of rejecting a great book because there’s no accompanying game.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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