Why Reading Shouldn’t Be Tedious

I’ve had an online conversation today with someone who told me – in all seriousness – that reading is tedious. To put this into context, they were arguing that there is an issue with an online computer game because players are put off playing by the amount of reading they have to do to progress through the story. This person wants all text in the story parts of the game to be conveyed in voiced cut-scenes so that players don’t have to read. Because ‘reading is tidious’ (sic).

As a writer, I clearly have a vested interest in people continuing to find books engaging and worthwhile.To a large extent, the onus is on me to provide interesting and stimulating content, but I’m more or less bound to do that anyway. No one is going to buy my books if they’re not worth reading.

My concern is about a mindset in younger people that I am coming across more and more often; that too much effort is involved in reading, and the effort isn’t matched by the reward. The person above is talking about the story in a game called Final Fantasy XIV, an MMO or Massively Multiplayer Online game. It is very much a story driven game and has recently garnered a lot of praise for the writing in its current expansion, Shadowbringers

Photography by
Pedro Ribeiro Simões

It’s hard not to presume this mindset is encouraged by both the schooling and the parenting that children experience. If books are presented as fun and entertaining from a very early age, both at home and in school, most children will grow up with a regard for the written word. Even if they aren’t avid readers, even if they enjoy other kinds of media, they’ll still be able to recognise that the written word has merit. They won’t dismiss it as tedious when something else they enjoy – a computer game in this instance – requires them to read in order to progress.

Concern about declining reading habits isn’t new, of course. And literacy as a – more or less – universal phenomenon is new. A few hundred years ago, the people who could read would have been the minority, not the majority. It didn’t blight the development of the human race; perhaps it did the opposite. But I would argue that what is new is a decline in imaginative muscle caused by over-exposure to media that uses visual and verbal means in tandem. And it’s the decline in this muscle that leads my friend from this morning to describe reading as tedious.

I’m no educational, psychological or statistical expert so my musings here are just that; musings. I’m speculating aloud about why someone might call reading tedious when, in my experience, it’s one of the most delicious, thrilling activities I can engage in. I would far rather read a book than watch a film or a television adaptation. Of course sometimes a film or television series is what you fancy, and that’s fine. Sometimes the book you pick up is badly written, and then reading is definitely tedious. I’m not advocating the written word as superior to everything else; what I am advocating is any medium powerful enough to ignite your imagination and encourage you to exercise it.

A few hundred years ago most people didn’t read books, but they still had stories. They were told them by their grandmothers, their friends, their priest. They heard them in folk songs and local legends. They saw them in the hangings in the church and temple, the statues and the woodcuts. But in each case, they still needed their imagination to fully realise the experience. If they were told the words, they still built the pictures with their imagination; embroidered and decorated what they saw in their minds’ eye. As they studied the tapestries, they created the stories in their heads that matched what they saw.

I see imagination as a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. And if you lose your imagination, you lose a powerful tool for making the world enchanting and fascinating. The written word becomes a dull and boring thing because you’ve no way of sparking it into life. Reading does become tedious; it’s just words then, and you’ve no way of using them to make a whole world flower inside your head. You have to sit passively, hear words and watch pictures, because you’re unable to create words and pictures for yourself. We are failing our children because we’re not equipping them with the tools to exercise their imaginations.