Monday, December 27, 2004

Reading Vs Computer Games: Thinking out of the (X)box

Christmas came and went. Xbox was pretty hot this year, or so it seemed to me. Past few weeks, while shopping at various locations, I noticed that adults were snapping up Xboxes where they were being sold. Not surprising, considering that Xbox testing stations seem to be in every corner of Singapore (bet the marketing people's motto was "To be even more pervasive than Starbucks").

Computer retail shops seemed to be doing good business, with adults and kids buying PC games too. That made me wonder to what extent was Reading for Leisure (i.e. borrowing from public libraries) affected by Computer Gaming.

It's a given that those two activties compete for our time. I'm repeating the obvious here: If you are a voracious reader, chances are that you'd spend time a significant amount of your personal time reading -- at the expense of other activities that you could do (say, playing on your computer or Xbox, if you own one). The reverse is also true -- if you are a fervent computer gamer who spend at least 4 hours trying to outrace, outgun, outbuild or outwit whatever that has been programmed, then you'll have less time to read (assuming you do that in the first place).

The computer games are getting more fantastic. I'm sure part of the growing appeal is due to Multiplayer options that come along with most games nowadays, where players go online and interact with other online players. To get a taste of the numbers, try (the developers of Halo & Halo2). As of this post, there were 331,315 unique players in the last 24 hours, with 848,268 matches logged. It may not seem like much when we think about the total number of Xbox gamers, but how likely would we have 300,000 readers going online to discuss about the same book in 24 hours? And that's only for Halo2. There are many more Multiplayer servers out there.

Generally speaking, that's not very encouraging if you're in the business of selling books or lending books. The young are picking up computer gaming at a much faster rate than which they pick up the book-reading habit.

My wife had a quirky idea on how to reverse that trend. Her idea was to design computers and gaming consoles such that they were not powered by plugging them into the electrical outlet. Instead, the user would have to first get on a stationary exercise bike (or equivalent exercise equipment) and pedal. Kinetic energy would be converted into electrical energy which was stored for use by the computer/ game console. Simply speaking, in order to play computer games, you've got to work for it first. The less you exercise, the less you would be able to play the computer game. The health benefits are apparent.

I said my wife had a quirky idea. I didn't say it was practical or realistic.

Even if game consoles were built like that, would that make more people take up reading? That's a different issue altogether. I won't even kid myself to say that I have an answer to that.