Movies are better
One could argue that movies are easily the best medium to distribute stories to the masses. Surely they are the most approachable. You don’t even need to be able to read to watch a movie. They are generally quick (under 2 hours), engaging, and passive. The viewer can in most cases just sit back and enjoy the ride. How can anything improve on that?
Games are better
Hold on. When I am watching a movie, I am a mere observer. I am being fed information and just looking through a window onto the deeds of the hero. It may be cool to watch, but wouldn’t it be better if I was the hero? This is exactly why games are better than movies. They place me, the viewer, into the role of the hero and the story is about me, about what I do. Granted there are generally confines to this and the designers can tell an actual story, but I feel like it’s about me, I am the glue that keeps it all together.
Also, the average game these days takes between 20 and 80 hours to complete. Compare that to a 2-hour movie. If a movie is $12 a seat, the entertainment cost is $6 per hour. For a $60 game, the entertainment cost is between 75 cents and $3 per hour. That’s a great value! I won’t even get into the typical 99 cent mobile game, the value there is pretty much unbeatable.
Books are better
Given all the benefits we get with movies and games, why would I think books are better? First, no matter how many millions of dollars are spent on computer generated graphics and special effects (e.g. Avatar), nothing visual can ever exceed my own imagination.
In a book, we take visual cues from the author, customize them to fit how we want things to look, and create a fantastic model in our minds. It looks exactly the way we want to see things, and any missing detail can be filled in just the way we want. The characters can even look like whatever actors we might want to be playing the part, not the ones the casting director chose. (Fifty Shades of Grey anyone?).
Because of this, we, as readers, get to see and experience the drama unfold exactly the way we want to. We are not at the mercy of some movie director to choose the setting, the time of day, or the color of the curtains. How many movies have you seen after reading the book, and thought, “that’s not how I pictured it.” Most. And can you think of a case where the movie actually looked better than how you imagined it. Maybe here or there, but this is the exception, not the norm.
Another reason books are better, for the audience, is there are just so many of them to choose from. Anything you could possibly want to experience is in a book. Compared to games and movies, there are way more! Check out these statistics from Amazon. They currently have over 30 million paperbacks, just over 850 thousand movies, and only 60 thousand PC games. To stress this difference, check out this bar chart. You can’t even see the one for games.
As an author, in fact, one of the most challenging things I have found is to think of something truly original to write about. In Blake Snyder’s excellent book on screenwriting, Save the Cat, he goes so far as to say that there are really only 10 unique stories, and they are just retold over and over in different ways. And all good authors, since the time of the Greeks, have “stood on the shoulders of giants”. In other words, we take ideas from the greats, alter them, combine them, and hopefully make something a little bit original from the parts. When I describe the premise for Spheria to people, they frequently ask, “like The Matrix?” or “like Snow Crash?” In fact, yes, it builds on ideas found in The Matrix, Flatland, The Sims, Minecraft, and, to a lesser degree, Avatar. My hope is that I have made something new from these familiar parts.
Staying Power and the Technology Dilemma
Here is the real reason books are better than these other forms of media: they are timeless. I even underlined that for effect. As far as books go, they are about as low-tech as you can possibly get. I know they are all digital now and we read them on our Kindle or iPhone, but that is not a requirement. You can get the same exact experience reading them on a piece of papyrus, or a gold plate.
Movies, however, require technology. And as this technology improves the quality of the experience gets noticeably better. Let me ask you, when was the last time you watched a black and white movie? Unless you are in film school, or have a desire to trace the lineage of modern film, probably not since TVs were in black and white (and thus, for some of you, the answer is probably ‘never’). So herein lies the problem with movies, once technology advances, the old style of movies are no longer engaging. First we had color, then we had high definition, now we have 3D, and we are on the cusp of having immersive movies where you are "inside the movie", also called 360 degree video or VR Cinema. If you want to preview what I am referring to without any special hardware, check out Littlstar.
It’s even worse with games. Games made just 10 years ago look laughable today. In many cases you cannot even run them on modern hardware without some special emulator, assuming they have even been ported. Games that large teams of people poured years of their lives into have thus been lost to time and will never be more than a memory. Take, for example, the phenomenal video game Interstate ’76 from 1997. It had state of the art graphics at the time. Today they look more than primitive. The characters don't even have mouths for God's sake!
The oldest known book is the Etruscan Gold Book which is 2,673 years old. That is staying power. You can still read this book, provided you understand the language, several millennia later. You don’t need anything special to consume the media. It still communicates an identical experience as on the day it was created.
Speaking of language, yes, these can be lost to time, or even evolve, so that older works are unreadable. I personally have difficulty reading Shakespeare. The good news is that most works considered of exceptional merit get upgraded to modern language. Take the Bible as the most successful example. Even the works of Shakespeare have been modernized as in this version of The Tempest.
Call it egotistical. But one of the reasons I am making a book, is I want to make something that has the potential to last. Something my grandchildren can read, and say “I was not alive when he was, but I think I know him just a little bit now.” I will close with an ancient Egyptian quote from 1187 BC which stated: