You do not have to venture far into discussions had by those born before the rise of the internet to hear the ever-pervasive words, ‘When I was that age, we read books and played outside…’ While it is true that children and young adults are consistently stereotyped to have a tendency to reach for an Xbox controller or computer mouse rather than a book, the video games industry has a significant and fascinating effect on the book publishing industry. Video games are a significant and dominating force in the media and entertainment industry across the globe. The United Kingdom alone has a current revenue of $4.5 billion and is the sixth largest gaming market in the world, with close to 40 million players.
Over recent years, studies have repeatedly shown that those who engage with video games are likely to engage with other media, such as reviews, blogs, social media posts, and yes – books. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Bookseller’s Children’s Conference 2021 this year, and within this event I was struck by a presentation by Nick Walters, managing director of SuperAwesome Gaming. In this presentation, Walters introduces the concept of the Metaverse and how this impacts the bookselling and publishing industry. So, what exactly is the Metaverse? Walters describes the Metaverse as an environment that has been constructed digitally – rather like how getting lost in a good book allows you to create an imaginary universe in your mind’s eye. However, the metaverse is ‘highly social…where activities that would once have happened in real life are recreated digitally’.
This concept of an online environment for escapism, socialising and enjoyment is particularly relevant today as we stumble out of the Covid-19 pandemic, where many activities have moved online or to digital platforms due to necessity, and thousands of people in the UK have found themselves becoming increasingly lonely. The first metaverse-like environments took the shape of websites aimed at children such as Club Penguin, and this has blossomed into a myriad of ‘shared, virtual experiences where users can seamlessly move between environments and platforms in new and exciting ways’. While this may seem to nullify the need for books for escapism, there may not be as much of a disparity between gaming and reading books as previously thought.
Increasingly, publishers and booksellers are embracing the digital age and the relevance and importance of video games on the industry. Games have the power to allow socialisation, build relationships, and can even improve literacy. A study by the UK’s National Literacy Trust showed a link between video games and literacy, empathy and mental wellbeing in young people, and the quality and depth of writing and storytelling in video games rivals that of the best published authors today. The books relating to the gaming industry are also on the rise, with books relating to the popular game Minecraft alone surpassing 17.2 million copies in print. The time to embrace the crossover between video games and books has passed, and the publishing landscape will continue to be shaped by this mutually beneficial relationship for years to come.