Should games, or game manuals, be treated as books?

I’ve been playing adventure games on computers since I was about ten years old.  I was fortunateto grow up in the 80’s when the computer and arcade boom really took hold.  Take a unique situation like that, throw in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Robin Hood on BBC1, and I was in my fantasy element.

So, it was natural for me, at first, to lean towards the old text-based adventure games. The player is often thrown in to a situation with very little information and expected to think their way out to safety.  Looking back, there was quite the comparison with those games and writing; ever sat down at a screen of text with a flashing cursor and wondered what to type next?  Try GO NORTH!

Fast forward a couple of decades and you’ll find me playing similar games, except now I can see where I am and I’m not just playing on my own; I’m sharing the fantasy world with thousands, millions, of other people.  Whilst the games are successful, it’s the forums, discussions and manuals that drives my thirst for knowledge.  It is in these meeting places of the internet that rumours are spread, experiences are told and knowledge is shared. When I’m in that kind of mood, I can often spend just as much time reading about the game, than I can actually playing it.

With that in mind, I can relate to this post in The Guardian about why we should be treating the RPG manuals as books themselves. The post discusses ergodic literature, which I’ve found to be defined as ‘literature where nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text‘.  This not only takes in account the manuals of many RPGs, but also suggests similarities with that of map-making and world-building; two things very close to me and my Fantasy obssession.

Whenever I’m writing, I always keep either a well-read copy of D&D books around me – quite often, I look something up and, an hour later, I’m still reading.  In those manuals I’ve discovered a whole host of characters, places and an abundance of lore that I would have otherwise never known about by simply playing a D&D adventure. For me, they are the textual building blocks of what the games, and their worlds, become.

Personally, I’d take this thought one step further and suggest that the games themselves should be treated as being on par with books, albeit not ones that can be read.  For every image I have of Frodo whilst reading the Lord of the Rings, of Vin whilst reading Mistborn, or even Kvothe from The Name of the Wind, I have similar digital experiences of sitting with strangers around a throneroom waiting for Ambassador D’Vinn and I’ve joined a raid to kill gods on their very own planes (EVERQUEST). I spent days tracking down the Time-Lost Proto Drake and tamed his as my mount, as well as being just one of dozens as we fought an enemy faction across a corn-field between two medieval villages (WARCRAFT).

The main difference here is that these aren’t stories, or novels, in the traditional sense. We can’t read them, nor can we feel or touch them.  But, we experienced them, we were able to put our virtual selves in the positions that our heroes and heroines are often placed and we could act out our own story.

Of course, there are differences between the two and some very good reasons as to why simply playing “Game of Thrones” isn’t the same as reading the novels. But I do think that there is still a place for those people who choose to act our their own stories, as opposed to reading someone elses.

Surely, it is the experiences that still remain when the final page is turned, or the avatar is logged off, that’s what counts?

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