This is the third post of the Pop Culture 180 experiment, in which I will give up video games and replace them with reading for more than one week. For more information, read this introduction post.

I am pleased to announce that as far as I can tell, in the midst of my endeavor I have not found myself to be a video game addict. Though many anticipated typical withdrawal symptoms, I have suffered nothing of the sort. I haven’t even found myself beginning to pick up the controller out of habit. I just stopped. Just as I made clear on the podcast: I can stop if I want.

But do I want to stop? That’s a question for part 5 in this series, in which I’ll lay out some more conclusive thoughts. In the meantime, I am full of thoughts, concerns, and experiences to share with you about what it’s like to give up video games and binge on reading.

It has been four days since the beginning of the experiment, and there have been a number of effects this sudden change of medium has caused. As far as I can tell, almost all of them come from the positive initiative of reading for great lengths of time rather than the negative initiative of giving up video games. If I am feeling the effects of going without video games, they are all wrapped up in and affected by the constant reading. It’s the great flaw of this experiment, but it makes the whole thing a bit more interesting.

First, I should point out that the first major feeling I was aware of as I spent most of my Labor day weekend reading was a distinct sense of being cut off from society. Reading is a highly secluded and anti-social act, which is hilarious since this is often the charge leveled against video games instead. I spent my entire weekend staring at pages that only I was aware of on any level. Even more shocking, I was completely and totally invested in a world of fictional people which bore no real relevance to anyone else around me. At one point early on in Howards End, I attempted to tell my wife about something that was happening in the book. She did her best to care, but her response was tepid in light of my feelings about the whole situation. Later, missing the ability to know what on earth I was so invested in (or perhaps just excited I was reading so much and wanting to support me), she asked me about the book. But I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t find the right words to do the story justice, except to say that she needed to read it. We could discuss it afterward.

This frustration is honestly something new to me, and it’s the one thing I miss about video games. If someone were asking about Splosion Man, or Left 4 Dead I could simply say to them, “come over, let’s play it.” But I can’t do that with this incredible book I just read. I am doomed, at least for a little while, to simply enjoy it on my own.

But is “doomed” the right word? After all, if there’s one thing this culture needs (and by culture, I mean “I”), it’s some medium that forces them to sit and reflect on themselves and on other people without distraction. To be wrapped up in themselves, and in God’s conviction and guidance, and to simply think. In other words, to be thoughtful. I believe strongly in community, relationships, and people. But they are serious business, and I hate to be unprepared for it. After reading Howards End, I feel a bit more prepared. No, that’s not right: a lot more prepared.

Now Ben has me reading some book about clocks and the moon and sundials, about which I must say I am struggling to care. Even more frightening, I am being forced to care about them above and beyond people, at least for a couple hours out of my day.

Four more days to go. This is going to be interesting.


  1. Reading is only as solitary as you want it to be. Once you have the facility for it, books are easy to talk about. I’ve had long and fruitful discussions with my wife about my latest read, The Savage Detectives, and it was only through those discussions that I came to have something of an understanding of what Bolaño may have been trying to say in his book. And Michelle hasn’t ever read the novel.

    The same thing happened with Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled. And with 2666. We talk about books and we are able to do so in such a way that our discussions are fruitful and engaging regardless of any shared experience of the actual act of reading.

    Like any skill, it takes practice. If you’re not a habitual reader or discusser of your reading, you shouldn’t be expected to realize that reading can indeed be social. It’s kind of like learning to play music. You have to practice on your own before you’re able to play with others. And you have to practice playing with others before you can jam with a band and interact with a crowd so that it’s one big social back-and-forth.

    I think this might be the case with Alan and Catan as well. The game must be played a few times and everybody comfortable with it before a group can have a truly social interplay during a session. And for beginners, the social aspect of gaming will always seem lackluster.

    I suspect this is what’s going on with you right now Rich. You’re unpracticed and don’t have the necessary vocabulary of literature to express your experience of Howard’s End in a way that can engage Jessica. That’s to be expected if this kind of reading isn’t common for you.
    .-= The Dane´s last blog ..20090417.teaParty =-.

  2. I totally agree. The fact is, I have all kinds of great social connections with friends and peers that stem from mutual appreciation for the power of books as a medium.

    Further, stories have a powerful ability to communicate metaphors or truths more clearly than simple declarative statements. I used things from books in sermons all the time. I guess the difference is that you are rarely social WHILE you are reading, but since when is that a necessary requirement?

  3. The lack of sociability in flagrante delicto of reading seems a false objection to me. Most endeavors that aren’t specifically social suffer likewise. People are rarely social while watching a movie in a theater too (and if they are, I’d ask them not to be). People are rarely social while listening to music or at a concert. People are rarely social while playing Braid or Mario or whathaveyou (it’s only social gaming that really benefits from and adds to society). People are rarely social while appreciating nature, surfing, writing for a website, studying architecture, or reading God’s word.

    It’s only activities that are particularly geared for social interaction that contain social interaction all the way through—and it seems a cheat to judge things to be missing that component unless they are intended to contain it.

    The social aspect of theater-going, concert-going, reading books, playing not-social videogames, and studying Scripture primarily comes after the fact. That is sensible and that is good.
    .-= The Dane´s last blog ..20090417.teaParty =-.

  4. I’m not going to respond too in depth to these (we still have 2 more posts and 2 podcasts to go), but since I’m getting ganged up on here…

    1. These are half-way thoughts. I assumed you guys would understand that I’m thinking through these things still without making any final conclusions. The subtitle and title were just meant to be provocative. ;-)

    2. Ben, you’re right, my point is about the ACT of reading, not the results afterwards.

    3. Seth, those other mediums you mention at least allow for communal observance and/or participation, etc. Reading refuses this. Even if you all read together, you’d have to go to great lengths to make sure you didn’t read way faster than one another, etc. and the whole thing would just be a frustrating experience.

    I didn’t mean to put these things forth as a complaint about the medium, just something that needs to be considered.

  5. Oh, I realize they were halfway thoughts. I was just offering my initial reaction and trying to posit some helpful thoughts of my own. As far as reading refusing society while in the act, I don’t buy that either.

    I’ll go as far as agreeing that like watching a movie, it doesn’t encourage it, but I don’t agree that it actively stifles it either. Especially while reading something worthwhile, I will in the midst of the act break away to share some especially worthy piece of information, some picture perfect line of dialogue, some intriguingly wry observation. Because of its nature—its effect on the intellect and imagination—reading causes me, even in the midst, to break out into conversation (and conversation I might not necessarily have) and to forge society and strengthen its bonds.

    I’ll also grant that this avenue of expression is denied me when I read alone. And that reading alone is sometimes necessitated by circumstance. I read alone on my lunch breaks because, well, I eat lunch alone (since Brandon and Wendy left for Atlanta, there are no longer co-workers with whom I can lunch)—and its rare that I will intrude on a stranger’s lunch to speak of the things I’m reading (not that I would speak to such strangers if I were not reading).

    This is why I vastly prefer to read with somebody. I highly recommend it. Michelle and I will often go to a local coffeeteria and hunker down for two or three hours and read together. Of course, we’re not reading the same things, but that just increases the interplay of interruptive ideas. If I’m reading The Savage Detectives and interrupting her to talk about how I’m interpreting the discussion of the literature of desperation and it’s place in the development cycle of readers and she’s reading Cloud Atlas and interrupting me to share a narrator’s surprise at how deftly a squid’s beak and eyes remind him of his father-in-law, then I can’t imagine a better interplay of social interaction. All forged in the midst, in the act, of reading.

    So while to say that reading doesn’t necessarily encourage social interaction is fair, to say that it refuses it is hyperbole. Though as I said before, if one is relatively unpracticed in the art of it, I can see how such things might not immediately present themselves as possible or (if possible) likely. And don’t think I’m calling you illiterate here because I’m not (since you can obviously read just fine), but I’m only referring to the fact that you are not well-practiced at the discipline (hence the choice of reading for your 180).
    .-= The Dane´s last blog ..20090417.teaParty =-.

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