A very interesting article here discusses whether video-games can inspire reading among children. It skirts around the old video-game narratologist – ludologist debate which can instigate some fierce argument. Up front I have to say that I tend to view the world of games from a narratologist point of view and so I do believe that stories do have a place in games – supporting the “rules” of a game rather than forming the them.
I like the idea of using games to inspire reading and I have some anecdotal thoughts on the subject. I know that for older players there are broadly two camps in relation to stories/text in a game. The first group who just want to interact with the game world and other players and the narrative is formed by the player only; things that happen to them, the choices that they make, and the conversations/interactions that they have with other players. The second group care about this “ludologistic” approach but also care about characters, a story that is narrated (in the broad sense), and often wish to become a character that has a clearly (predetermined) role in a narrative. Members of this (crudely defined) second group are generally only interested in a rich and deep narrative as evidenced in some role play games, as opposed to a game like Doom which has a back-story though most who play it don’t care or know much about it.
It is my experience that young players (especially 3-6 years old) tend to see narrative (text or aural) as an obstacle in the way of gamepla- they are annoyed with it and want to click on through. However, I have found that young children do develop reading skills through games, even if this is just through the menu traversal. I know of one situation where a young mildly autistic child was helped a great deal in his reading and social skills by videogames.
I would like to see games help literacy but alongside and not as a replacement.