I remember that when I was growing up, one of the arguments that adults gave to promote reading over watching television was that by omitting the visual and audio stimuli, books leave room for the imagination. This always made sense and was a point that I always accepted. Yet I never really gave it much thought until just recently. The idea becomes more apparent when one takes two versions of the same type of thing as presented on television, the updated version of which adds “more” to the presentation.
I’m thinking specifically of something that my teachers probably disliked even more when it came to reading versus television: video games. I might just still be riding off of the high of having beaten Super Mario Bros. for the first time last weekend. After beating that game, however, I noticed that I still want to go back and play it. I thought that I was “done,” that I would have no more reason to go back to that game. Yet it’s still just as fun, especially because I know how to make my way through it.
Then I started thinking about a more recent installment in the Mario franchise, Super Mario Bros. Wii. No, not the Wii U game—I still haven’t bothered picking that system up. I did have a copy of the Wii game, though, and I ended up selling it. I played through it once or twice before losing interest in it. Why? In many regards, it’s more advanced that the original Super Mario Bros. It certainly uses updated graphic and sound capabilities, and the game-play is better designed. Yet it doesn’t have as much replay value for me. I think all of the elements that make it “better” are actually why I can’t play it as many times as the original.
I’m not going to argue that the original game, by having less-advanced graphics, leaves more room for the imagination. Granted, as little kids on the playground we always imagined what bigger levels with more power-ups and enemies would be like. But I can still do that with friends in regards to more contemporary games. The difference is that by adding more to the later game the developers made it less of a game. The original Super Mario Bros. is so fun because it sticks to being a game—there’s no bells and whistles to distract the player, so the developers had to focus on how good the game-play is.
So what does this have to do with reading? I don’t know if reading “sparks” my imagination any more than television does. I’m already an imaginative person—much to the chagrin to people who know me—and if a work of fiction inspires me to think, that’s going to happen going to regardless of the medium. But reading doesn’t have as much to distract me from such imagination during the activity, which exercises the mind.
Why do I write (or try to write) screenplays, then? Writing a movie is not the same as watching one, of course. I visualize the story in my head just the same way as when writing prose. But I also don’t mean to discredit movies, television or in some cases even video games, either. Yes, some people should read more. Yes, some people should get out and live life more instead of binge-watching shows on Netflix. But there is plenty of artistic and intellectual merit in all forms of storytelling if done right. Even if it isn’t, then there’s still a place for escapism.
Where does this leave blogging? I’d rather not answer that here.