My parents taught me to read when I was 5 years old. I had not yet begun kindergarten and was already a ready-reader.Somewhere between 1991 and 2001, I decided to stop reading. I was not a bad reader, I could read aloud and understand the characters in the text, but I hated books.
However, I loved video games, something some parents would often see as a crime against the literary world.
The first game I remember playing was by the Sierra software company called “King’s Quest.”
It was a 16-color adventure story of King Graham and his journey through the kingdom of Daventry and his perils of giants, princesses and elves.
This may sound far-fetched, but the catch for teaching reading, writing and spelling came in the control of the character.
With the exception of a four-direction keypad, the means of discovery and success in this mystic world came from typing queries at an alarming speed.
For instance, walking up to a hollowed-out log required the following steps executed with perfect typography and an entertaining back and forth battle with the program:
Me: Look in log.
Computer: There is a glimmer of gold in the log.
Me: Grab gold in log.
Computer: You cannot “grab gold”… at least not now.
Me: Take gold.
Computer: You took the gold.
Not only did I learn to type sentences and use deductive logic to crack the code of the computer, but I also learned how to plunder goods from old tree stumps.
Early 1990s’ technology rules.
Back to the point of relevance and how gaming has kept me from being a mouth-breather molded into a sofa.
This game taught me problem solving and spelling by age 6. By the time I was in second grade, I had already beaten “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” – a task not easily undertaken by most elementary schoolers. It is a game chock-full of puzzles, story lines, intrigue and deceit.
The catch however, was that I had to read text throughout the entire game, while etching mental maps of the 16-bit landscapes.
The idea is simple for an older gamer, since memorization of pathways and mapping becomes a requisite with driving, but for an 8-year-old, that’s not always the case.
I managed to develop puzzle skills from games and dissect stories that were more involved than some of the assigned texts of the second grade – sorry Ms. Wenner, but “Mr. Poppers’ Penguins” was not nearly as entertaining as “Kings’ Quest” or “Zelda” or the grandfather of intelligence gaming: “The Zork Anthology.”
“Zork” fell into a world of it’s own. It had no images, no directional control, no suggestive help; it only hinged on imagination. The program came on 3.25 inch disks and a typical “level” or screen would look like this:
“You are standing in a house. There is an open window to your left where you can see the sun setting on the horizon. To your right is a cabinet with fine china inside it, behind you is nothing. Where do you wish to go?”
The safe road is to look inside the cabinet for a clue, the more aggressive method is to leave the house, but some people wish to look behind and see what is in the nothingness.
“Go backward and look around.”
The computer then gives a preachy moral to the short-lived adventurer’s tale.
“You have stepped back into oblivion, when we said ‘nothing,’ we meant nothing, try again.”
Zork taught imagination, attention to detail and how to create a world based on words. It was similar to books in that aspect, but I could control the character.
Perhaps the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series would have been fitting for me, but the allure of sitting at a computer dictating my destiny made me feel superior.
So take this situation in your life: You have a door in front of you that is open to a cornfield, a staircase to your left leading to the second floor and a bookshelf to the right of you.
(Hint: the bookshelf guards a secret passageway)
Both books and video games can teach, but before discounting one, take time to consider the other.
Associate editor Marcus Murphree is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Beaumont.