Super Literacy Bros: Video Games and the Future of Literacy

Recently in one of my classes, a fellow student made the remark that video games are pointless and that they should all be eradicated in favor of books. This deluded individual told the class, “video games haven’t taught anyone anything.” Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for everyone else, a new study shows that this might not actually be the case.


First though, a bit of context for you. I grew up as a video gamer. I played all sorts of games, from Goldeneye 64 to Sonic to Command and Conquer. My favorite, though, were the RPGs (Role Playing Games). Games like these, such as Chrono Trigger, Golden Sun, and nearly any of the Final Fantasy games were my bread and butter. I’d spend hours trying to max my characters stats to complete trivial, insignificant side quests. I loved these games, and just reminiscing about them makes me want to break out the old Game Boy Advance and play some Fire Emblem (on Hector Hard Mode, of course).*


As an adult reminiscing on these games, I’m struck by two things.  The first is the sheer amount of time that I put in to these games. It pains me to use the word “wasted,” but I wasted hours of my life just trying to get all of the items in Final Fantasy Tactics. The amount of time I spent wandering the Safari Zone in the Red iteration of Pokémon is absurd.


The other, more important thing that stands out to me is how much reading I was doing. All of these games required me to read through complex, sometimes nonlinear storylines. I had to decipher through large words, made-up words, and large made-up words. Often, I would be asked a question and forced to select an answer from a number of text responses. These games forced me to engage in literacy in a way that no book ever could. I was a participant in the story, an agent in the plot.


So this is why an ignorant remark in class affected me so strongly. I love to read, and a good deal of that love can be directly traced to video games. I know that they’re not perfect – games can be rife with misogyny and racial stereotypes. And not all games possess the aggressive literacy of my beloved RPGs. But writing off video games as dumb and trivial only demonstrates the ignorance of the speaker.


There have been a growing number of studies that show the powers of video games in education. Researchers have demonstrated that the active problem solving and casual reading helps kids learn, even when they think they’re just having fun. The findings of a new study, published in February, have even more startling results. Researchers found that video games can significantly help dyslexic children learn how to read. By all means, these findings should continue to be tested, but it’s encouraging to see that there seems to be concrete evidence of the link between video games and literacy.


So, I urge all of you to do two things. First, please think about the role that video games can play in developing literacy, and don’t write them off. And second, check out Final Fantasy Tactics, because it’s fantastic.*




*Also, if you liked “Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones,” your opinion is factually wrong and you should probably stop reading this article now. I feel sorry for you, honestly, and you should just go out and buy the first fire emblem because it’s superior in every way.

*You can even download FFT for the iPhone, so you have no excuse not to play it.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • I agree that many games that have complex story lines and a lot of text to read. Adventure games all have some reading and comprehension necessary for the completion of puzzles. I think your classmate’s opinion as well as the opinions of others who think poorly of video games stems from the impulse for people to pinpoint one factor as the source of all problems currently plaguing the world.