Bolter and Grusin in Remediation : understanding new media show that new media define themselves compared to older ones. The representation of one media in another one is part of this logic of remediation in which the two principles of immediacy (transparency) and hypermediacy (fascination for media). As the author exemplify with Myst, video games often use representations of books to develop the background of characters, to give information about the universe or the story in different parts of the game or to award bonuses. In this paper, I will study how the gamers perceive those books and how they use them. The emphasis is on the reception of the books rather than on the different functions of the books in the game structure (ludic and narrative). Indeed, there is a difference between how the designers intended the books to be used and the interest the players have for them. The recent alarmist speeches about the loss of interest for books caused by new media (including video games) could point toward a generally negative reception of books in game. Thus the main question is: are books in video games a feature that appeals to the players? This question is important for the academic critics as well as the game designers since it’s both a question of media ecology and social media representation and a question of the impact of a feature which costs money and resources to develop.
To tackle this subject I have decided to use a survey which aims at understanding the different ways of using books in video games. You can find the survey in the following links: French / English.
This article will first present the methods used to create and analyse the survey and then give its results and draw preliminary conclusions.
Methods, hypothesis and population
In relation to the assessments of loss of interest in books, four hypothesis were made:
The interest of books is not always perceived by players.
The book is rather used as a game system element than a narrative device (rather for bonuses than information).
Books are only read by players who spend a lot of time on the game.
The reading of the book is mainly done when and where the players encounters them.
The goal of this survey was not to be representative but to anchor a literary theory on the reception of books in video games in the players’ real practices. The aim was to determine a tendency among the different uses: is it a feature which is experienced by a few players?
The survey was created with google documents and posted on different forums online. There were two versions of the survey : one in French and one in English. The French one received 144 responses between the 25/08/2015 and the 20/10/2015 and the English one 44. Because the French one received more responses, I will use these results for my analysis in this paper, but the English one corroborate the tendency observed here.
The indirect form of a survey posted online was chosen to allow numerous and diverse responses. However, there are limits linked to this method. Firstly, many forums don’t allow to post link, and as such, the number of forums was considerably reduced from the original concept. Secondly, the form of forums require to post a thread in a precise topic and thus reduces the potential players to those who follow the topic. I decided to focus on forums about RPGs (in general or particular games) because I have concluded elsewhere that RPGs are one of the genre which features the most books and use them in their structure. The first part of the questions were made to determine the profile of the player. The analysis of the data gathered confirms that the players mainly play different forms of RPGs (cRPG, Tactical RPG, MMORPG …) and action-adventure games.
Because the responses were not representative of all types of gamers (casual, e-sport fans …), I decided to focus the analysis on RPG players. So, in the rest of the paper, I only take into account RPG players.
Moreover, as far as the type of player is concerned, most of the players invest a lot of time in the games they play and find the story and the universe as important as the gameplay for a game.
Results and analysis
The second part of the survey was dedicated to the use of books in game in general and the third part was focused on a few games that represent books to question differences between the two media.
Like texts in general in video games, books are not ignored by players, they are a game element that is used by players. It’s an experience that cannot be dismissed as accessory. More than 90 % of the players always or often read the texts in game (books, bestiary, posters…). More than 80 % interact with books in game always or often.
The books are not only interacted with (opened and closed) but also read and used as game mechanics features. Almost 70 % of the players say that they always or often read books and only 1 % declare never reading them.
The books are part of the continuous game experienced : they are not perceived as separated entities. Most of the players read the books as soon as they find it or when they open their inventory. More than 80 % read them only once. Only 6 % use books outside the game. The books are sometimes part of the re-appropriation of the universe by the players which is part of the geek culture, as David Peyron argues in “Culture Geek et participation : continuités, formes nouvelles et rapport à l’industrie culturelle”. The books are copied in wikis, read in online videos, translated, used as prop for fan fiction …
The books are used for understanding the story or the universe rather than for the game mechanics. Most of the players are looking for information about the universe or the story but only a few are looking about tips on gameplay (tips to fight against a boss for example). Interestingly, only 60 % of them always or often like to find books.
The importance of books differs from game to game and it doesn’t come from the fact that books are only a text or both a text and an element of gameplay. The games mentionned in the survey were : The Elder Scrolls series, The Witcher series, the Fable series, Myst, Dishonored, Nier and Soul Sacrifice. The last two games will not be used here because only a few players played them, so the results are not reliable enough to see tendencies.
90 % of the players read at least some books in TES and 30 % read most of them. More than 70 % used them for gameplay. The books in TES are used more for the story than the gameplay bonuses they can give.
The same can be concluded for The Witcher games: 15 % of the players or less didn’t use or read the books or don’t remember them. A slight difference can be noticed from the reception of books in TES: more players read all of them.
These results are confirmed for The Witcher 3 by an online survey, created by a player. The differences come from the fact that this survey focuses on the completion of the reading of a book.
Books in Dishonored have the same kind of reception even if they are not a mechanic of the game system. 80 % of the players read them.
On the contrary, for the Fable games, the books are not an essential part of the game : 25 % of the players didn’t read books or don’t remember it and more than 50 % didn’t use them or don’t remember it.
The case of Myst shows that there can be really different kind of receptions of books in one game.
The more the game is played the more the books are read. The most interesting case to show that trend is Dishonored since there were 57 hardcore players and 27casual players.
The books are an important feature of the game but not an essential one since some players who play a lot didn’t read or don’t remember the books. Players who spent a lot of time playing the games from the Fable series are, for example, more than 30 % who didn’t use or don’t remember using the books, either for gameplay or narration.
These conclusions are only preliminary since the pool of players was limited in number and focused on RPGs players (as it was mentioned before). Other surveys from representative members of the gamer community could improve our understanding of the reception of books in video games, but would fall within the issues tackled by sociology. Another method to reinforce our conclusions could be to focus on the reception of a few players by creating interviews. In particular, the innovative uses of books outside their original functions in game which were mentioned in the survey could be investigated more.
Bolter, Jay David and Grusin, Richard Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998.
Bugeja-Bloch, Fanny and Couto, Marie-Paule Les méthodes quantitatives : l’art de faire parler les chiffres sans les torturer, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2015.
De Ketele, Jean-Marie and Roegiers, Xavier Méthodologie du recueil d’informations: fondements des méthodes d’observation, de questionnaire, d’interview et d’étude de documents, Bruxelles: De Boeck, 2009.
Fenneteau, Hervé Enquête: entretien et questionnaire, Paris: Dunod, 2002.
Peyron, David “Culture Geek et participation : continuités, formes nouvelles et rapport à l’industrie culturelle”, link : https://davidpeyron.wordpress.com/textes-et-extraits/culture-geek-et-participation-continuites-formes-nouvelles-et-rapport-a-lindustrie-culturelle-2/
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The Elder Scrolls
The Elder Scrolls II : Daggerfall, Bethesda Softwork, 1996
The Elder Scrolls III : Morrowind, Bethesda Game Studios, 2002
The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion, Bethesda Game Studios, 2006
The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim, Bethesda Game Studios, 2011
The Elder Scrolls Online, Zenimax Online Studios, 2014
The Witcher, CD Projekt RED, 2007
The Witcher II : Assassins of Kings, CD Projekt RED, 2011
Fable, Big Blue Box, 2004
Fable II, Lionhead, 2008
Fable III, Lionhead, 2010
Myst, Cyan, Inc. 1993
Riven, Cyan, Inc. 1997
Myst III : Exile, Presto Studios, 2001
Uru : Ages Beyond Myst, Cyan Worlds, 2003
Myst IV : Revelation, Ubisoft, 2004
Myst V : End of Ages, Cyan Worlds, 2005
Nier, Cavia, 2010
Dishonored, Arkane Studios, 2012
Soul Sacrifice, Marvelous AQL – SCE Japan Studio – Comcept, 2013