Fiction ‘improves social understanding’

8 Jul

UPDATE 24.09.2011:

As of this update I’m working on the design and layout of a book for a local photographer. A local writter is providing appropriate captions and the one included below is pertinent to this post. While the quote is specific to reading, I also believe it to be true of any form of narrative with which we can engage, ie analogue and digital games:

“In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to lead; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.”
S.I. Hayakawa (1906-1992), academic and United States Senator.

This is kind of interesting… I suppose anyone interested in fiction would believed this to be true anyway… but this clip from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme would suggest that the findings of Prof Keith Oatley are a little more conclusive.

In a way it almost common sense to say that reading fiction improves social understanding because of course, paradoxically, fiction is never entirely made up. Fiction is a writer’s response to something he has observed in the real world.

As with anything, there are times when this is done well and times when it is not… but that’s another story…

The other interesting aspect to this games. I am convinced that games are exceptionally good at delivering the same story based experience as books. In a game however the player is part of the experience (creating their own story), within the context of the prescribed plot.

80’s Computer Games legend, Dino Dini, in his Keynote to the NEoN Digital Arts festival Festival in Dundee talked about this very idea and inspired a great deal of what I would go on to research through my Masters project. He talked about ‘excessive narrative diminishing player experience’… how too much ‘prescribed plot’ in a video game could hinder a player from creating his own story… by creating our own stories he suggested that we learn to understand ourselves and develop as human beings.

Oatley would appear to agree with this idea as he uses the analogy of a ‘flight simulator’ to give emphasis to his theory… and so, the circle is complete… and I rest my case…!

What do you think..?

Oatley’s research has been collected into a book Such Stuff As Dreams – The Psychology of Fiction and  is available now.

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