Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Everything Bad Is Good For You is a good book. It takes the premise that video games and today's multimedia culture are harmful and turns it on its end.
While I agree that violence and sex in the prime-time TV window and in video games targeted towards kids is out of control, I do believe that author Steven Johnson has a point here. The book describes how video games do more than just spur hand-eye coordination. Their multi-level plots, problem solving puzzles and deduction-thinking are certainly better for kids than watching a rerun of The A Team on Spike TV.
The book also goes into detail on how today's television programing is so different than that of a dozen or two years ago (and I'm not talking about violence and sex). Today's television shows include intriciate, multi-threaded plot scripts that are non-linear. Today's shows require you to assume a lot and sometimes include heavy amounts of content that you must choose NOT to understand (like the medical jargon in ER or the abbreviations and political references in The West Wing). Multi-level plots in prime time all started with Hill Street Blues in the early eighties, and today's shows like The West Wing or The Sopranos can have as many as 12-15 different plot lines working in parallel, weaving in and out and sometimes converging at several points.
And programs like The Simpsons and Seinfeld have plot elements that not only carry on from show to show, but sometimes from season to season. Seinfeld references like those to Art Vandalay (one of the examples from the book) can carry over six seasons, with 2-3 season delays between mentions.
While I don't agree with everything in this book, it is a very interesting read and definitely something that anyone on multimedia should pick up. I only wish there was a bit more to it - $24 is a lot for a small 250 page book.