I gave a talk called "How Do You Look at Books?" the other day to 150 teenagers in the Great Books summer program at Amherst College The kids were very attentive and smart, befitting a group of self-selected bibliophiles, some of whom claimed to read 150 books a year.
I began with a history of how various people have seen books, from Socrates, who decried the growing reliance on books in Plato’s Phaedrus, to the mystical nature of scribe-copied books behind the walls of abbeys to the new narrative entertainment of video games. When I suggested that the participatory narrative of video games might affect the reading of fixed-narrative literature, most of the kids balked: they definitely did not see this happening. They enjoy both playing video games and reading books, and wanted the stories in novels to remain immutable, which most felt was their charm and interest. They also disagreed with my assertion that contemporary video game narratives were truly changeable. They claimed that the goal of video games remained constant: Only the path taken to reach the ultimate goal could be changed. Because the narrative lines were not unlimited, the narrative itself was not essentially changeable.
Quick aside: what does it mean to the future of literary reading that the San Diego Comic-Con gets over 100,000 visitors in four days?