I’m a casual video game player, but I’ve played a lot of games in my day. My first video arcade experience was at the Asteroids machine in the Stop-n-Go. After that game filled my body with adrenaline, it was all over for me. The prospect that I could control a whole ship that was able to blow up asteroids in space with just a dial and a button was magical. Later, playing more complex games like Ultima IV, I realized that there could be richer experiences that required a few more buttons. In college, I was introduced the the MUD (Multi-User Dungeon), which I never really got into. More recently, I started playing World of Warcraft, which I consider the most successful MUD in the world today. Along the way, I have played many console games from first-person shooters (Halo to Ghost Recon), platform games (Super Mario World to Mirror’s Edge, which is just fantastic for this genre), and, to a lesser extend, Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games (I love Pikmin in this genre). Along the way, I came to a startling conclusion:
Games can be too realistic.
At a certain point, games that increase in realism achieve a level of realism that… well, it makes them actually real. Real in the sense that all the real-life frustration you might experience in, say, infiltrating a heavily-defended building or training for the military. Let me put it this way: I would never play Halo if I had to go through 6 week of training in-game to qualify to play the game. Part of the magic of video gaming is that it lets people do things they would never have a chance (or the time, or even the physical ability) to do in real life.
If you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with E-Book Readers. I recently came across an article on a dual-screen E-Book Reader that says it will be “awesome”. Why? What is so awesome about using 60 years of accumulated technology to emulate 500 year-old book technology? Isn’t this akin to emulating basic training in a first-person shooter video game? Sure, a certain segment of the population (read: geeks) get thrilled at the prospect of running the Commodore 64 on their iPhones, but is that really the right approach?
When it comes to consuming long-form media on a high-tech device, what is needed is a new approach. Instead of emulating 8-bit technology, how about inventing a whole new 64-bit technology? In my life, audio books (in combination with the iPhone, a technology platform I always have with me) radically changed the way I enjoyed books. For one, it enabled me to read for pleasure again. I find that I’m very rarely in a situation where I can drag a book along with me, much less sit down and use my two hands and two eyes to actually read it. This new-fangled technology enables me to enjoy a book in a way the original author probably never intended. A first-person shooter video game is vastly more enjoyable than having actual terrorists actually shoot assault rifles at me. Likewise, an audio book is vastly more convenient than an actual pulp book.
So I ask, what advantage does an E-Book Reader have over a paper book? In my case, it’s actually worse. I don’t mind if I lose a $4.95 paperback book. I can drop it, dogear it, write in it, drop it, kick it, rub sand on it, prop a door open with it, hit my friend over the head with it to get his attention… Nothing I would do with two A4-sized pieces of LCD glass (okay, maybe prop a door open with it).
This whole e-book reader craze is destined to be relegated to history as a stop-gap technology to help folks who can’t or won’t adapt to new media technologies. In a few years, it should blow over after the “gee whiz” factor has passed by. Either that, or it will be adapted, like audio book technology, to a new, more fertile environment, and it will be another 15-year overnight success.
Update: FSJ almost quotes me: “There is no point in moving to digital readers if we’re just going to do what we did on paper.” Here’s hoping RSJ feels the same and actually comes out with a decent tablet.