July 10, 2019

Reader Viewer Gamer Spy

Ok, maybe not that last one, but anyway...

If you've hung around this blog long enough, you've likely noticed that I tend to talk about "stories" more often than books, and that I use games, manga, and movies as well as written works to discuss writing concepts. This is because I think all those stories, in whatever medium, have something interesting to say, or something worth examining. Yet there exists no decent word for a person such as myself, a lover of stories, if you will.

Labels and Categories

I'm not one to say "I don't like labels", but I do find them lacking sometimes, usually because there aren't enough of them, or they're not broad enough

For example, I'm obviously a nerd and a geek, in that I like nerdy, geeky things. I enjoy learning and research and school, which I would put under the "nerd" category, and I like superheroes and fantasy/sci-fi and comics, which are decidedly "geek". But these don't include my love of books—not all nerds are bookworms—nor my obsessive devotion to anime and manga in particular. I guess “weeb” might be a subsection of geek? I don’t know. Whatever the case, neither nerd nor geek are satisfactory to my quest for the perfect word to describe myself.

And what would you call someone who loves movies as much as a bookworm loves books? A filmworm? (Can we please just make this a thing?). There are terms like “film enthusiast” and “cinephile”, but I think these imply a knowledge of movie-making or a love of niche and cult films that I don’t necessarily have. At the same time, though, I’m not just a casual movie-goer. I really like movies, and thinking about movies, and talking about movies. Why isn’t there a word for that?

Stereotypes from Without

Perhaps the reason there isn’t a word specifically for someone who’s into movies or comics the way there is for those who love books is due to stereotyping. There are people who look down on us movie-watching, game-playing plebeians, so people have been trained to think that liking comics is dorky, or that liking movies is for filthy casuals.

Geeks, I think, have been fighting against this, reclaiming the word for themselves, so to speak. They’ve done a fairly good job at making geekery mainstream, and yet large numbers of people still aren't onboard. For example, the writers of The Big Bang Theory have long labored under the impression that liking Star Wars is a geeky, niche interest. Star Wars! Was that ever niche, even when it came out in the 70s? Even if it was then, it certainly isn’t now. Yet this stupid idea that Star Wars was only for geeks, specifically geek men, is how we ended up with the debacle that is Disney’s new trilogy aimed at a “larger” audience—by which they meant all seven people in the world who didn’t already like Star Wars.

A subsection of geeks fighting the good fight for more recognition is the gamers, and yet this group is not without its stereotypes. Sometimes, this is through innocent ignorance: my sister and I were geeking out over the plot of Okami in the break room of a Catholic school were she worked and one of the nuns asked, tentatively, “Video games have stories?”. She seemed happy to learn that they do, but this illustrates the point that not every non-gamer knows what video games have to offer, so of course they might not consider games in the same category as books or films.

Then there are worse stereotypes. A coworker of mine pooh-poohed video games because, amongst other things, they “don’t promote social interaction”. My coworker, remember, is a librarian... in a library... full of books. When you read a book, that’s six or more hours of being by yourself, reading. You might choose to go to a bookclub or talk to a friend about it, but that is hardly part of the reading experience. Games, on the other hand, often have two-player or online mode. My younger brother is constantly playing games and constantly talking to his friends over Discord while doing so. One time, he was playing a single player game while his friend from out of state was playing the same single player game, and they were talking to each other about it over headphones. Obviously, this isn’t true for all games and gamers (I myself like single-player, offline games), but to act as if games are socially isolating in comparison to books is just inaccurate.

Stereotypes from Within

Speaking of books, the label with the most baggage, in my opinion, is bookworm. It’s not non-bookworms who are the ones responsible for this stereotyping, but the book lovers themselves.

What stereotypes am I talking about? For starters, the stereotype that in order to be a bookworm, you should sneer at other types of media. “The book was better” is something often lobbed at movies. I usually agree with that; the movies of Harry Potter, Something Wicked this Way Comes, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Phantom of the Opera, Public Enemies, and every iteration of Sherlock Holmes pale in comparison to their source material. But some movies are just as good as the book they are based on. This may be because the movie captures the essence of the book, like The Princess Bride, Anne of Green Gables,  or Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (the 1951 version), or it may be due to the movie deviating from the book but still being equally enjoyable, as is the case with The Secret of NIMH / Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and most of Disney's fairytale adaptations. And some movies—and I know my bookworm card might get revoked for saying this—are better than the books, including The Great Mouse Detective, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Last Unicorn, and And Then There Were None.

“Heresy!” cry the bookworms, but why? Aren’t people allowed to like and dislike whatever stories they want? And that’s stereotype number two, which is never encountering a book you don’t like. I usually find this with English majors, some librarians and library patrons, and bookstagramers who take pretty pictures of objectively bad books (I know I just said people can like what they want, but let’s be honest, nobody liked The Casual Vacancy, probably not even J.K. Rowling). It’s almost like, to be a bookworm, you can’t have a taste for certain books and not others. Or rather, you can’t act as if some books are just, you know, not good. Such bookworms fret about libraries weeding books from their collections, but as someone who used to do that as a volunteer, I can tell you, some books are bad. They might be badly written, or boring, or cringey, or whatever (and that’s why they don’t circulate for years on end, and that’s why they get weeded). The point is, it’s okay to not like certain books, and doing so should not make one any less of a bookworm.

The stereotypes go on and on, and I can’t relate to any of them. “Books are better than clothes”; but I really like fashion. “I can’t resist buying new books when I’m in a bookstore”; it’s nice that you have all that disposable income, but I’ll settle for borrowing books and scouring the free shelf. “I remember staying up late at night as a child with a flashlight under my covers”; I wasn’t a big reader as a kid, but that didn’t make me less into stories. And, of course, “I’d rather be reading,” not daydreaming, or watching movies, or getting lost in the world of a game, because you can apparently only get lost in a book.

I know I sound bitter, and that’s because I am. I love books, but books are not the height of human storytelling, nor its primordial form. Poems, songs, and plays all predated writing, and as for novels, those didn't come about until the 11th century in Asia and the 1400s in Europe. Sure, movies and video games are a lot younger, but that doesn't make them any less valuable, unless you believe that books are less valuable than plays and poems.

Let me say it again, in case my non-bookwormish statements have made any of you doubt: I love books. But I also love games. And movies. And comics. Basically, I love stories. I’m a story enthusiast. Why isn’t there a word for that? Daydreamer? Fantast? Storyworm?

I suppose the word isn’t as important as the concept I’m trying to explain. Books and movies and games and plays are all amazing, each in different ways. So why do we have to denigrate some forms of storytelling or act like some are better than others? I can see personally preferring one type of media to another, but if you totally eschew one of them because of some silly stereotype, I think you’ll miss out on a lot of amazing stories.

Thus, in the next few posts, I’m going to try to convince you, dear reader, or viewer, or gamer, (or spy?) that each of the four main storytelling media—books, plays and television, comics, and video games—each have something unique to offer, and are worthy of a place in the hearts and minds of all story-loving people. Stay tuned!

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