'Kids ARE reading - just in a different way': What social media and gaming can teach us

Published on: 13 August 2019 Author: Aisha Bushby

Have you heard that children aren't reading these days? Aisha Bushby disagrees - and says we can learn a lot from the things young people enjoy...

Aisha Bushby and the front cover of A Pocketful of Stars

Reading is in decline.
Social media is on the rise.
Kids don't want to read books because they're too busy playing video games.

I'm sure you've heard, or read, these words before. They are plastered all over the internet, spoken on the radio and TV, and discussed in whispers when parents meet, creating a sort of mob-like fear of technology.

I'll lay my cards out on the table: I grew up in the technology age, I love and hate social media (I very recently took some time off because I felt it was damaging my health), and I wrote this article on my phone.

Let's think a little about this last point. I'm sitting on a train as I write and I'm sure many people would think I'm busy taking a selfie or planning my next avocado brunch (that's what millennials do, right?)

But I think this is the real problem we are facing at the moment. Not the rise of social media or video games, but the lack of understanding about what it is children and teenagers are doing on their devices and how it can be beneficial to their personal development.

Because whether you like it or not, social media and video games aren't going anywhere. So the solution isn't to eschew games and the internet; it's to look at what they do well and replicate it.

Changing the way we share stories

Kids ARE reading. They're just doing it in a different way. Anyone who's played video games - particularly MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) - knows that there is quite a lot of reading involved in setting up the story and rules. And in order to navigate social media, you need to read... pretty much constantly.

I know it's the sort of reading that is frowned upon - bitesize, lacking in modifiers - but it is reading nonetheless. So if we want to get children and teenagers to read, why not access the spaces they're virtually inhabiting? And why not provide it in a way that is consumable in this environment?

For example, what if we also released books in serial form online, on a subscription-based platform? Readers would get a chapter every few days, with a cliffhanger at the end. It's what those who write fan fiction do, and we all know how hugely popular that is. It's how many classic writers we still know today released their works. Why not use an old model but update it for the modern age?

If you're sceptical, think of it this way: what if you were offered the exact same meal from both a restaurant and a street food cart? Despite eating the same food, how would your expectations of your dining experience change? If you approached the street food cart and they handed you a meal on a ceramic plate, with a silver knife and fork, I'd be very surprised if you chose to accept it.

Why, then, do we expect children and teenagers to consume fiction in the way we've decided is right... without actually asking them how they would like to read?

A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby is out now, published by Egmont. It features Safiya, a gamer, whose mother is in a coma. Safiya is transported to her mum's old memories in Kuwait, and must navigate them, in order to save her, using the rules she has learned from her favourite game, Fairy Hunters.

Read our review of A Pocketful of Stars

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