Video games support reading and literacy

Pam Coleman Community Engagement Librarian





Last weekend as part of Youth Week we hosted AREPA Gamer’s Club. For Arepa, the event aligns with its tikanga to encourage positive community interactions, facilitate learning opportunities through gaming, and machine learning. Director Sio Paese says, “It’s about challenging the negative stereotypes about gaming by showing it can have a positive impact on families and communities. We can use games as a tool to connect with our young people to provide new, positive and exciting opportunities.” Video games are often dismissed as unsophisticated or the domain of couch potatoes. What might surprise you is that some video games can support reading and literacy. In story-rich games you can find many of the same narrative characteristics found in fiction, such as setting, plot, character development, mood and tone. Many digital games include text, such as letters, journals and newspaper articles, which are set in the narrative and provide practice and scaffolding to encourage reluctant readers. What is narrative in general? Narrative is a chain of causal events (eg. a thing happens that causes something else to happen). Most good narratives are due to a character wanting something and having to do something to obtain it, with consequences if they fail. A simple example of this might be Cinderella. The casual chain is Cinderella wants to go to ball, so she makes dress; dress is destroyed; she gets help from godmother; she can go to ball; she meets prince; she marries prince, they live happily ever after. Each step is dependent upon the one before it. The primary difference between video game narrative and all others, of course, is choice. In a book, you follow along as a character does things, while in a video game, you as the player control the character. You can often make choices that move the narrative in very different directions. This can encourage problem-solving skills. So what is narrative in a video game? It’s literally just any story (narrative) that is being told through the medium of the game. Most games, but not all, have some kind of narrative. A story is being told and often a good one at that! World of Warcraft has a number of stories that some players love. People who write books can, naturally, write a pretty good story for a video game. It may further surprise you that George R. R. Martin, Tom Clancy, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman have excelled at just that. They give the player just enough to work with narratively, but ultimately they let the player tell his or her own story. Video games may not be everyone’s forte but one day in the future you may find yourself immersed in a choose your own narrative, 3D version of the latest Game of Thrones or Jack Ryan adventure.