Watching is the new reading: Comparing the outcomes of popular books, TV shows, and video games
First Monday

Watching is the new reading: Comparing the outcomes of popular books, TV shows, and video games by Lindsey C. Maxwell and Alec C. Tefertiller



Abstract
This study investigated three narrative media — books, video games, and television — and compared popular examples of them, as they represent narrative content in which the user now has the ability to control the pace of the narrative. Outcomes associated with narrative consumption were compared across these media, and the personality trait transportability was also included in the analysis. Results indicated that whereas books and TV represented similar narrative experiences, video games provided less opportunity for transportation into a narrative, appreciation, lasting impression, and suspense. Implications for transportation theory and narrative consumption are discussed.

Contents

Introduction
Literature review
Method
Results
Discussion
Conclusions, limitations, and future research

 


 

Introduction

“Clearly, we enjoy many activities that are explicitly designed to prompt experiences of narrative worlds: novels, newspapers, movies, television programs, history books, representational artworks, and so on.” [1]

In July 2019, Netflix released a new season of its blockbuster show, Stranger Things. Within the first week, almost 41 million households had watched some of it, and more than 18 million households had finished the entire season (Tassi, 2019). This model of releasing the full season at one time, rather than waiting to release episodes week-by-week, is indicative of a shift in the way that audiences consume television. Netflix has made an intentional effort to promote consumer choice in television viewing, whether that was watching multiple episodes at one time, or at a slower pace determined by the viewer (Isaac, 2013). This constituted a significant break from the traditional method of releasing television entertainment via prescribed, weekly, broadcast release schedules, and as such acknowledged and further facilitated new viewer behaviors.

While digital technologies, especially Web-based streaming television services such as Netflix, have allowed consumers to consume multiple hours of a television program in one sitting, streaming television is not the first media that allowed marathon consumption of narrative material. Books have long been the staple of voracious readers who pick up a book and read until they are ready to stop — entering, leaving, and re-entering a narrative world at their leisure. As with streaming television, books provide hours of content where the reader has the ability to control the pace of the narrative. Likewise, narrative video games allow players to control a character through a storyline. Although there may be individual choices that affect elements of the game, a linear storyline must still be played-through in order to complete the game. These two media have provided audiences with hours upon hours of content to control.

These three media — books, video games, and now television — although historically different, all prompt the experience of a narrative world — full of plots, characters, and settings that allow a reader, player, or viewer to become immersed. This experience of becoming absorbed in a narrative world is known as transportation (Green and Brock, 2002; Green and Brock, 2000; Green, et al., 2004).

The current study seeks to compare popular examples of these three media, as television has now evolved to the point where users may control the pace of extensive, many-hours-long narratives. Unlike movies which have a finite end after a short amount of time, or music which does not create narrative worlds, these three media represent a new era of entertainment consumption where television may be considered equal to video games and books in terms of the ability of the consumer to become transported, enjoy the narrative, experience suspense, and form a lasting impression of the story. This study hopes to shed light on newer television behaviors facilitated by digital technology such as streaming, in particular how these behaviors compare to the consumption behaviors of other media.

 

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Literature review

Transportation theory

Transportation theory relates to the experience of becoming lost in a narrative so much that one forgets the world around them (see Green, et al., 2004). This theory states that the more a person is immersed in a narrative, the more that he or she will enjoy the narrative content (Green and Brock, 2000; Green, et al., 2004). Transportation is an experience unique to users who are engaged with narrative content. Without a narrative, transportation cannot occur (Green, et al., 2004). Transportation is a mindset, or a state, and “the experience of being transported into an elaborately simulated place is pleasurable in itself, regardless of the fantasy content” [2]; therefore, it is a desired state that consumers of content seek to achieve through becoming immersed in a narrative (Green, et al., 2004).

One of the primary indications that a person is transported into a narrative is that they “are fully concentrating on the story. They often lose track of time or fail to notice events occurring around them because of their focused involvement in the world of the narrative” [3]. Individuals seek out this experience when they are engaging with a narrative — whether it is a book they are reading, a TV show they are watching, or a video game they are playing. Transportation theory itself attempts to explain the mechanisms that contribute to enjoyment (Green, et al., 2004). Researchers have stated that although reading a book provides the reader with the ability to imagine the settings, characters, and plotlines in a narrative, the visual images associated with film and television may change the experience of transportation, depending on the characteristics of the user and the characteristics of the medium (Green, et al., 2004).

Transportation and flow

Flow, a state described by Csikszentmihalyi (1997; 1990), refers to the experience of being so completely involved in an activity that an individual loses track of time, responsibilities, or the outside world. Flow, therefore, is defined by the absorption that occurs within a set, defined space: “most flow experiences occur with activities that are goal directed, bounded by rules, and require mental energy and appropriate skills” [4]. Transportation “might be conceived as a special case of a flow experience” [5] that can only occur as a result of an experience with narrative content.

Flow has been a subject of interest in many past investigations of transportation theory (Busselle and Bilandzic, 2009; Green and Brock, 2002; Green and Donahue, 2009; Tal-Or and Cohen, 2010), revealing that transportation is a dimension of flow “just as people may arrange their lives to experience flow, individuals may seek out narratives that transport them to other worlds. People plan for and protect experiences in which they expect to be transported” [6]. Transportation is related to flow in this way: transportation is the particular experience of flow that results from narrative content. Transportation can be conceptualized as the narrative element of flow. Because transportation cannot occur without a narrative, flow and transportation are not the same, but transportation is the flow state achieved during the consumption of a narrative.

Transportability

One of the primary personality traits which may predict how a person will be affected by the content in a narrative is transportability, a trait which identifies people who are more likely to become transported into a narrative, and who are more prone to enjoying the experience of transportation (Dal Cin, et al., 2004; Greenwood, 2008). Transportability relates to the idea that “some individuals seem to be readily and deeply transported by narratives, whereas others do not seem to experience the same level of transportation” [7]. Individuals who are higher in transportability “are more likely to become transported into any particular story” [8], regardless of the content. Other things being equal, people who are higher in transportability are more likely to become absorbed in a narrative.

Transportation theory has been criticized for not being able to identify specific traits that will affect transportation between individuals (Dal Cin, et al., 2004), and transportability has been touted as the trait which would be able to predict transportation outcomes.

Enjoyment and entertainment outcomes

Enjoyment has been studied regularly in connection with entertainment media (see Denham, 2004; Nabi and Krcmar, 2004; Oliver and Bartsch, 2010; Oliver and Nabi, 2004; Oliver and Raney, 2011). Recent scholarship has explained enjoyment in terms of multiple reactions that separate the purely pleasurable facet of enjoyment (hedonic enjoyment) from the appreciation that occurs when an experience is meaningful (appreciation) (Oliver and Bartsch, 2010). Although they are different dimensions, they remain part of the same concept known as enjoyment (Oliver and Raney, 2011). Although enjoyment can be conceptualized in many different ways, researchers conclude that enjoyment in its many forms is a main motivation for entertainment consumption.

Though they are not the same, transportation and enjoyment are closely related (Green, et al., 2004). Enjoyment can occur in a variety of entertainment situations, yet transportation can only occur when there is a narrative world present for a media consumer to become absorbed in. Both transportation and enjoyment are desired states (Green and Brock, 2002; Green and Brock, 2000; Green, et al., 2004). In order for transportation into a narrative to occur, a user must have consistent access to an uninterrupted narrative; viewers state that “a common complaint from individuals who have watched a bad movie or read a dull novel is that they ‘just couldn’t get into it’” [9].

In addition to enjoyment, Oliver and Bartsch (2010) identified other outcomes that are related to entertainment consumption. In particular, the authors identify “lasting impression.” Namely, whereas enjoyment (devoid of appreciation or meaning) may be associated with fleeting feelings of pleasure and excitement, deep appreciation of some entertainment offerings should result in greater levels of reflection, deeper levels of processing, and more extensive contemplation — all of which should result in more lasting or enduring response” [10]. Lasting impression should indicate a long-term appreciation and response to media content. While enjoyment can prompt experiential emotional experiences such as having fun or being moved, these experiences can give way to longer-lived experiences addressing cognitive needs, such as thought-provoking experiences and social sharing (Bartsch and Viehoff, 2010). Indeed, lasting impressions have been associated with heightened contemplativeness (Bartsch, 2012). As enjoyment and appreciation predict lasting impressions (Oliver and Bartsch, 2010) and enjoyment is closely related to transportation (Green, et al., 2004), it is worth examining how different media narratives prompt lasting impressions.

Media consumption can also result in suspense — that is, “an experience of uncertainty whose hedonic properties can vary from noxious to pleasant” [11]. By this definition, suspense can be either a positive or negative experience, and it depends on the content of the narrative. Suspense “involves the struggle of sympathetic protagonists against a variety of hostile opponents and physical dangers” [12], and exemplifies a well-written dramatic story that contains characters who resolve their issues through the execution of the plot. Regardless of the medium being used, a dramatic storyline may contain suspense, indicating a response to the narrative as posited by Oliver and Bartsch (2010).

High-dosage media entertainment

There are many ways to consume narrative content that one enjoys. Traditionally, media consumers have been able to immerse themselves in narrative worlds through books, picking them up and continuing to read an enjoyable narrative at the pace they have desired. A good book can be read over the course of a few hours — if the reader does not quit a single sitting — or stretched out almost indefinitely. The reader is free to enter and leave the narrative world as he or she pleases. A similar experience takes place when a user plays through the storyline in a narrative video game; although their choices within the game may affect short-term outcomes, there is still a linear narrative that the player must continue through. New technologies have allowed this enjoyable experience to be extended to activities such as watching TV. Whereas viewers were once relegated to waiting a week for a new episode of a TV show and still being forced to interrupt their transportation every commercial break, they can now consume hours upon hours of TV content online, using a DVR, or watching on a DVD or blu-ray. While movies contain narratives, their shorter time-frame (typically a couple of hours) and self-contained nature does not support episodic or marathon viewing. Likewise, while music can be experienced for hours, albums typically lack narrative structure. As such, they are not considered in the current investigation.

The increase in the availability of narrative content has led to the need to study how these forms of story consumption are related. All of these media consumption options are high-dosage media entertainment; that is, they are all narrative consumption methods in which the consumer may stay engaged with the medium as long (or as short) as they choose to do, with many hours of content available to them. They may pick up a book, play a video game, or watch episodes of a TV show at their leisure.

Reading. One of the oldest forms of narrative media, books provide the hallmark for understanding the creation and consumption of narrative worlds. The comparison of the potential for transportation between books and other media has infiltrated transportation theory itself:

“Whether one medium or another is better for transportation is open to debate; we suggest that books have the advantage of allowing more imaginative investment from the individual as well as being self-paced (a person may slow down to savor a favorite passage, or reread an important section of text). Both factors should encourage transportation. On the other hand, Gerrig and Prentice (1996) suggested that the formal properties of film, particularly the way in which it focuses viewers’ attention, may make some types of immersion more likely.” [13]

The current research seeks to understand whether books have an advantage over other forms of media in terms of the potential for transportation and other media consumption outcomes.

Video games. People have been enjoying video games as long as they have been playing them. Like other fields that study the complicated nature of media enjoyment, video game researchers have noted that “the enjoyment of playing is a complex, dynamic, and multifaceted phenomenon” [14]. Similar to the desire to seek enjoyment from other forms of media, player enjoyment “is the single most important goal for computer games” [15].

Video games come in many different forms, and have many different elements that distinguish one from another. Some video games require players to hunt and kill fellow players, while some create fantastic worlds for players to explore and lose themselves in. Other video games provide elaborate and incredible narratives which rival the narratives presented in film, television, and books. While there is a good deal of literature about video game narratives (Balakrishnan and Sundar, 2011; Juul, 2001; Murray, 1997; Shapiro, et al., 2006), there is limited empirical research which examines how the storytelling and narratives within video games compare to narratives contained in books or television, or how the experience of the viewer or player might change between media.

Narrative content can exist in different forms within video games. Some video games have short “cut scenes” that introduce brief segments of narrative, while other video games rely heavily on narrative content, and a player must progress through a story as they play the game. These narrative video games lead players through a relatively linear progression that tells a story. There may be some minor changes that occur later in a narrative game as a result of the players’ actions, but in general, the story remains the same, and players experience the narrative in these video games not unlike they would experience the story in a film or television show.

Television. Until recent years, audiences were bound by TV programming schedules when it came to deciding when (and where) to watch their favorite TV shows. But with the advent of DVRs, box sets of DVDs and blu-rays, and — most importantly — online streaming services, audiences now have the power to control the pace of a TV narrative like they have previously had for books and video games. With full seasons and whole, complete series available to them, audiences have chosen to participate in binge-watching: accelerating the pace of a narrative and consuming episodes faster than the traditional week-by-week model. Early discussions of binge-watching defined it as consuming between two and six episodes in a single sitting, however recent research has contradicted this idea:

“Even if a person’s TV-watching experience falls outside this narrow definition, binge-watching occurs when a person consumes a full TV season or series in a relatively small amount of time. Viewers may consume the exact same content without binge-watching, but it is the act of continuously consuming content that defines a binge. Consistent access to content delineates binge-watching from regular TV watching; the number of episodes is relatively unimportant, as long as viewers had the opportunity to continue watching, and subsequently elected to do so. Continuous storylines are essential for viewers to want to keep watching.” [16]

This behavior has put TV on par with books and video games, prompting the investigations present in the current study. TV viewers can start and stop watching when they want to, much like reading a book or playing a video game, and “binge-watching is arguably different from other types of viewing since it gives users a degree of control over their viewing activities that they have never had before” [17]. Recent research has been concerned with whether or not binge-watching is associated with negative mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, and self-regulation deficiency (e.g., Sung, et al., 2015; Tukachinsky and Eyal, 2018). In other words, rather than being associated with new ways to consume television narratives, perhaps binge-watching was symptomatic of mental health issues, as with other binge activities such as heavy-episodic drinking or binge-eating. However, while both reading and playing video games facilitate extended consumption of media content, the terms “binge-reading” or “binge-gaming” have not found the same place within the modern cultural zeitgeist. As such, it is possible binge-watching represents merely another means of consuming media at a viewer-determined pace rather than a sign of mental illness.

Research questions

In order to investigate the outcomes of consuming different types of popular controllable narratives — books, video games, and television — the current study compares the outcomes that occur when a person uses each medium. Research associated with transportation theory has indicated that control over a narrative, and the ability to enter and leave a narrative world at will, should result in increased transportation (Green and Brock, 2002; Greek and Brock, 2000; Green, et al., 2004). While books, video games, and now television are different media, and differences in narrative transportation may be expected, there has been little research into whether transportation varies across these media. Additionally, the personality trait transportability (see Dal Cin, et al., 2004) may influence how individuals experience transportation. Thus, the following research questions are proposed:

RQ1: Are there differences in transportation between books, video games, and television?

RQ1b: Does transportability moderate the relationship between the medium a person consumes and transportation?

Additionally, previous entertainment research (Denham, 2004; Nabi and Krcmar, 2004; Oliver and Bartsch, 2010; Oliver and Nabi, 2004; Oliver and Raney, 2011) has identified enjoyment — both hedonic enjoyment and appreciation — as a sought-after outcome of entertainment media consumption. Thus, the current study will investigate the following:

RQ2: Are there differences in hedonic enjoyment between books, video games, and television?

RQ2b: Does transportability moderate the relationship between the medium a person consumes and hedonic enjoyment?

RQ3: Are there differences in appreciation between books, video games, and television?

RQ3b: Does transportability moderate the relationship between the medium a person consumes and appreciation?

In addition to enjoyment, audiences may experience suspense when they consume a narrative, or form a lasting impression of the narrative’s plots, characters, and settings (see Oliver and Bartsch, 2010). Therefore, the following research questions are proposed:

RQ4: Are there differences in lasting impression between books, video games, and television?

RQ4b: Does transportability moderate the relationship between the medium a person consumes and lasting impression?

RQ5: Are there differences in suspense between books, video games, and television?

RQ5b: Does transportability moderate the relationship between the medium a person consumes and suspense?

 

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Method

In order to investigate the relationships proposed above, a survey was employed. The survey was completed entirely online through the use of the software Qualtrics.

Survey design

After agreeing to participate, respondents were first shown questions for the personality trait transportability. After they had answered questions about transportability, respondents were shown three lists: one of books, one of TV shows, and one of video games. As consumption behaviors for the referenced media are asynchronous and subject to consumer control, listings of popular media created close to the execution time of the survey were consulted, as the nature of these technologies allows consumers to experience popular media beyond specific release windows. Properties identified as popular were desirable, as it increased the likelihood that respondents had experienced the selected media. Respondents were asked to indicate which books they had read, which TV shows they had watched, and which video games they had played. For each of the following lists, respondents were able to answer “I haven’t [read, watched, played] any of these [books, TV shows, video games].”

The first of these indexes was compiled from an external list of popular books (Chapman, 2015), and from this external list, books were chosen that reflected popular books at the time of data collection. The complete list of books shown to respondents was as follows: The Harry Potter series; The Lord of the Rings; The Hunger Games; The Twilight series; The DaVinci Code; The Hobbit; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Divergent series; and, A Tale of Two Cities.

The list of TV shows was selected from contemporary lists of popular narrative TV shows available via current technologies for marathon consumption (Glennon, 2013; Jancelewicz, 2014), and TV shows were selected to this list that were hour-long, serial dramas. The complete list of TV shows is as follows: Breaking Bad; Downton Abbey; Friday Night Lights; Game of Thrones; Homeland; House of Cards; Lost; Mad Men; Orange is the New Black; and, The Walking Dead.

For the list of video games, games were selected from external lists of popular narrative video games (GamesRadar Staff, 2018; Mounis, 2011). The complete list was as follows: Final Fantasy VI; Fallout 2; L.A. Noire; Chrono Trigger; Spec Ops: The Line; Assassin’s Creed 2; Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater; Mass Effect 2; Bioshock Infinite; and, The Walking Dead.

After they had indicated which media they had consumed, respondents were randomly assigned to answer questions about one of the books they had read, one of the TV shows they had watched, and one of the video games they had played. For each medium, respondents answered questions about transportation, hedonic enjoyment, appreciation, lasting impression, and suspense. At the conclusion of the survey, respondents answered questions about their demographic information: sex, age, and race.

Measures

All survey measures are included in the Appendix. In order to assess transportability, which refers to the personality trait associated with increased likelihood to be transported by a narrative, respondents were shown a 12-item transportability scale adapted from the 20-item scale developed by Dal Cin, et al. (2004); eight items were removed for redundancy in order to control the length of the survey. Items included “When I am watching a TV show for pleasure, I can easily envision events in the TV show,” and “When I am watching a TV show for pleasure, I sometimes feel as if I am part of the show.” All items were measured on a seven-point Likert-type scale, where lower numbers represented a lower presence of transportability. Two of the items were reverse coded, and were recoded to match the rest of the scale before analysis. Within the sample, the scale had a reliability of α = .85.

The measure for transportation, which refers to the specific transportation experienced from a particular narrative, was the 11-item scale created by Green and Brock (2000). Items included “I wanted to learn how [book, TV show, video game] ended,” and “I could picture myself in the events of [book, TV show, video game].” Each question was specifically directed at the particular book, TV show, or video game that the respondent was answering questions about. For example, a question in the transportation scale for a person who had watched Mad Men would be “I wanted to learn how Mad Men ended.” All of the items in the transportation scale were measured on a seven-point Likert-type scale, with lower numbers indicating a lower presence of transportation. Three of the items were reverse coded, but were recoded before analysis. Scale reliability was calculated for transportation within TV shows α = .80, books α = .81, and video games α = .82.

Appreciation, hedonic enjoyment, lasting impression, and suspense were measured using the scales proposed by Oliver and Bartsch (2010). Each variable was measured using a three-item scale, with questions such as “I was moved by this [book, TV show, video game],” and “I know I will never forget this [book, TV show, video game].” A seven-point Likert-type scale was used for each scale, where respondents could indicate their level of agreement with each statement. For TV shows, scale reliability within the sample was as follows: appreciation α = .84, hedonic enjoyment α = .94, lasting impression α = .91, and suspense α = .92. For books, scale reliability also met acceptable levels: appreciation α = .88, hedonic enjoyment α = .95, lasting impression α = .94, and suspense α = .91. Finally, the scales were reliable within video games as well: appreciation α = .88, hedonic enjoyment α = .93, lasting impression α = .92, and suspense α = .91.

Sampling

A national convenience sample was collected using Amazon Mechanical Turk, which has been shown to be an effective tool for collecting social science respondent samples (Buhrmester, et al., 2011; Mason and Suri, 2012; Stavrositu, 2014). A call for respondents, in particular respondents who “consumed media,” was posted online, and individuals selected themselves into the study. They were given US$1.25 in exchange for their time responding to the survey, with an average response time of 15 minutes. Respondents were thanked for their responses at the end of the survey.

 

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Results

Originally, 215 individuals responded to the survey. Univariate outlier analysis was used to identify careless respondents, with cases considered for omission from further analysis if they exceeded +/- three standard deviations on multiple variables. No such cases were identified. Of that number, 103 were male and 99 were female. Ages ranged between 19 years old and 68 years old, with a mean age of 36 years old. Of these individuals, 69.8 percent identified themselves as white or Caucasian, 9.8 percent were Asian or Asian American, 6.5 percent were Hispanic or Latino, and 5.1 percent were black or African American. The remaining individuals identified themselves as other races. In order to complete an accurate analysis across the three media being investigated, individuals were excluded from the analysis who reported that they had not read any of the books, seen any of the TV shows, or played any of the video games. This resulted in a final sample of 69 people who had watched at least one of the shows, read at least one of the books, and played at least one of the video games. This sample was sufficient for the statistical tests utilized based on accepted rules of thumb (Wilson VanVoorhis and Morgan, 2007).

Table 1 displays mean and standard deviations for each outcome.

 

Table 1: Means and standard deviations for dependent variables by medium.
Note: * denotes a significant difference between mediums at the p < .05 level.
 BooksVideo gamesTelevision
Transportation*4.84 (.93)4.44 (1.13)5.17 (.91)
Hedonic enjoyment5.89 (.95)6.01 (.99)6.09 (1.07)
Appreciation*5.11 (1.29)4.46 (1.55)5.10 (1.37)
Lasting impression*5.32 (1.13)4.76 (1.48)5.35 (1.17)
Suspense*4.94 (1.33)4.85 (1.41)5.35 (1.17)

 

Research Question 1 (RQ1) asked whether there would be a difference in transportation reported between reading books, watching a TV show, and playing a video game. A repeated-measures ANOVA was used to assess this research question. Mauchly’s test of sphericity was not significant p = .06; sphericity was assumed. Table 1 displays the mean levels of transportation for books, TV, and video games. There was significance within the model F(2, 69) = 16.29, p < .001. Observed power was 1.00. Post hoc comparisons indicated that watching television resulted in significantly more transportation than reading a book p = .03, or playing a video game p < .001. Additionally, respondents experience significantly more transportation when reading a book than playing a video game p = .002. RQ1b asked whether transportability would moderate this relationship. Once transportability was added to the model, there was no significance F(2, 69) = .36, p = .70. Therefore, the answer to RQ1 and RQ1b is that both TV and reading result in more transportation than playing video games, and watching TV results in more transportation than reading a book.

Research Question 2 (RQ2) asked whether there would be a difference in hedonic enjoyment between books, television, and video games. A repeated measures ANOVA was used to assess this research question; mean levels of hedonic enjoyment are displayed in Table 1. Mauchly’s test of sphericity was not significant, therefore, sphericity was assumed. However, there was no significance within the model F(2, 69) = 1.82, p = .17. RQ2b asked whether transportability would moderate the relationship. When transportability was added to the model, it was not significant F(2, 69) = .51, p = .59. Therefore, the answer to RQ2 and RQ2b is that there is no significant difference between hedonic enjoyment experience when consuming books, TV, and video games, regardless of transportability.

Research Question 3 (RQ3) asked whether there would be a difference in appreciation between books, television, and video games. Using a repeated measures ANOVA, a Mauchly’s test of sphericity was not significant p = .52; sphericity was assumed. Means for appreciation are displayed in Table 1. Within the model, there was significance F(2, 69) = 7.14, p =.001. Observed power was .93. Post hoc tests showed that watching TV resulted in more appreciation than playing video games p = .01, and that reading a book also resulted in more appreciation than playing a video game p = .003. In order to assess RQ3b, transportability was added to the model. This resulted in no significance within the model F(2, 69) = .12, p = .89. Thus, the answer to RQ3 is that both reading a book and watching TV resulted in significantly more appreciation than playing a video game.

Research Question 4 (RQ4) asked whether there would be a difference in lasting impression between books, television, and video games. A repeated measures ANOVA was employed for this research question; means for each medium are displayed in Table 1. Mauchly’s test of sphericity was not significant p = .40, indicating that sphericity was assumed. There was significance within the model F(2, 69) = 6.91, p = .001. Observed power was .92. Post hoc tests indicated that lasting impression was significantly higher for watching TV than playing a video game p = .01, and for reading a book than playing a video game p = .01. Transportability was added to the model to analyze RQ4b. There was no significance within this model F(2, 69) = 1.44, p = .24. Therefore, the answer to RQ4 is that playing a video game results in significantly less lasting impression than watching a TV show or reading a book.

Research Question 5 (RQ5) posited whether there would be a difference in suspense between TV, books, and video games. A repeated measures ANOVA was used to assess this research question. Means for suspense for each medium are displayed in Table 1. Mauchly’s test of sphericity indicated that sphericity was assumed p = .68. There was significance within the model F(2, 69) = 3.86, p = .02. Observed power was .69. Post hoc tests showed that suspense was significantly higher for TV shows than video games p = .04. In order to assess RQ5b, transportability was added to the model, however there was no significance within this model F(2, 69) = .39, p = .50. The answer to RQ5 is that watching a TV show is significantly more suspenseful than playing a video game.

 

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Discussion

This study investigated whether there would be differences in transportation, hedonic enjoyment, appreciation, lasting impression, and suspense between different entertainment media where the consumer had the ability to control the pace of an extensive narrative. As newer technologies, such as Web-based streaming, have allowed consumers increased control over their television viewing experience, this study sought to establish whether or not differences existed in the narrative experience of popular television versus similar media. Other than hedonic enjoyment — where there was no difference between books, TV, and video games — results consistently indicated that while there were few differences between books and TV, video games provided less opportunity for transportation into a narrative, appreciation of it, lasting impression of the story, and a suspenseful narrative. These results are surprising, considering the amount of literature which contends that narrative video games are similar in nature to other forms of entertainment.

Video games provide the same amount of hedonic enjoyment as other media, but when it comes to appreciating the narrative, becoming transported into it, experiencing suspense or forming a lasting impression, video games seem to fall short of television and books. Perhaps the narrative structure and storyline are not the primary feature that draws individuals to play narrative video games, and thus game developers do not create storylines that are on par with books and serial television programs. Video games may be more appealing because of their potential for interactivity and should not be discounted as a narrative medium; however, future research needs to better understand why hedonic enjoyment was the only outcome which was not lesser for video games.

The results of this study may speak less to the nature of video games, and more to the changing nature of television production and consumption. The immersive, visual nature of television watching seems to resonate with audiences more now than ever before. Books have long held their place as the dominant, high-culture medium which people do not feel bad about spending hours consuming. Yet the upswing in quality television has led to an era that has been described by media observers as the golden age of television — a time with a great deal of good TV (see Carr, 2014; Cusumano, 2016; Garber, et al., 2015; Sheffield, 2015). Audiences have not simply begun binge-watching quality television, but have replaced some of their media consumption time previously devoted to reading to TV watching: “I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy” [18]. Television has risen in quality and prestige to a point where the transportation, enjoyment, lasting impression, and suspense of a dramatic TV series is indistinguishable from the experience of reading a book. Even spaces like airplanes and hotel rooms — once the domain of readers — have now become places where one can consume quality television content on their laptops, tablets, and smartphones (Carr, 2014).

As “television has rapidly expanded in respect and prestige over the past decade” [19], audiences seem to have reacted in a way which indicates that they want to treat TV much the same as they have treated books in the past, as a well-written, enjoyable pastime that is deserving of large chunks of their leisure time:

“The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever-more time in front of the TV without trace of embarrassment.” [20]

The results demonstrated in this study are consistent with the idea that television is rising in prestige and excellence, surpassing its previous status as a low-class, boring waste of time that one should be ashamed of. Instead of lying and trying to downplay the amount of television one is consuming, viewers are now having to promise so much of their time to TV watching, and lie about which TV shows they are going to watch (Sheffield, 2015).

Beyond the elevation of narrative television’s cultural status, this study calls into question whether viewing behaviors associated with newer television technologies should be associated with negative mental health conditions and outcomes. While previous research has suggested connections between binge-watching and depression, anxiety, and decreased self-regulation (Sung, et al., 2015; Tukachinsky and Eyal, 2018), the current investigation suggests the consumption of television is the new era is comparable to the consumption of books. In other words, binge-watching behaviors may simply be evidence of the increased control of the narrative experience of television afforded by new technologies, creating a viewing experience comparable to the control and pace of reading books. According to the current study, both media offered comparable levels of transportation. As there is little concern over binge-reading, perhaps the same level of concern, or lack thereof, should be extended to television viewing in the current media environment. In other words, television now offers an experience comparable to reading in terms of user control and pace-setting, and as such, is comparable to books in terms of its narrative influence.

Theoretical implications

The current study contributes in several ways to transportation theory. First, it demonstrates the usefulness of applying communication theories which were designed for more traditional media — such as books — to newer communication technologies, like television and video games. Indeed, the results here indicated that the primary variable — transportation — was significantly stronger when someone watched a television program than when they read a book or played a video game. This is consistent with the ideas of the creators of transportation theory, who stated that the immersive nature of television may affect transportation (Green, et al., 2004). The current study also bolsters the idea that “transportation theory may provide useful insights into understanding enjoyment of participatory narratives as well as more traditional media forms” [21], as it compared them side-by-side and demonstrated observable differences between media, providing a better understanding about how people lose themselves in narrative worlds.

In addition to presenting results about the outcomes of consuming books, video games, and television, this study investigated the role of trait transportability in audience’ experience of media content. However, the role of transportability was not clarified in this study. Instead, its applicability as a variable of interest is called into question, as it did not interact with any of the outcome variables examined. Previous research (Green, et al., 2004; Dal Cin, et al., 2004) has outlined the necessity of identifying personality traits that will explain why people are transported differently. Future research is necessary to full explicate the role of transportability in transportation theory.

 

++++++++++

Conclusions, limitations, and future research

While there was little evidence here to suggest that people react differently to books and television shows, this is not enough to say that they two media are the same. Additionally, more research is needed into why video games were only similar in terms of hedonic enjoyment. This research should not be interpreted as a condemnation of video games as a narrative medium, but rather as a jumping-off point for other empirical research on the nature of narrative video games. This study is limited by the negative, null-hypothesis nature of the results.

In addition, while this study suggests the experience of watching television is comparable to reading books in terms of narrative transportation, the survey did not explicitly address how the show was consumed. While the ubiquity of digital technologies, most notably Web-based streaming, suggests these viewing technologies are prevalent enough to influence the viewing of the television shows included in the study, and the shows included were derived from lists of shows frequently watched via streaming or related technologies, direct assumptions about participant viewing should be avoided. Likewise, while comparisons between book consumption and television consumption are warranted, implications for behaviors such as binge-watching should be made with care, as the study did not specifically address binge-watching. While binge-watching is becoming an increasingly common behavior associated with newer approaches to television viewing, future research should specifically examine binge-watching episodes, their relations to narrative transportation, and their function within larger patterns of narrative consumption including other media.

Another important limitation of this study is its sample. While sufficient for the statistical tests employed, the sample was a rather small, online convenience sample. As such, care should be taken in interpreting the results for the larger population. While the current study sheds light on how variables may be influenced by media experiences, future research employing a larger, representative, random sample would more accurately speak to the behaviors of the general population. More research is needed to more accurately determine mediated behaviors for the general population.

Additionally, this study was limited because of the use of specific examples of media that respondents were asked to give answers about. Only popular, heavily-consumed examples of books, TV shows, and video games were used in the current study. It stands to reason that people only consumed these examples of media if they were enjoying them, thus confounding the results related to enjoyment and transportation. However, this limitation is outweighed by the benefit of using specific experiences with media in the analysis of enjoyment and transportation. Future research may analyze less popular examples of media.

This study is a first step in understanding how television consumption is changing to make narrative television shows more similar to reading books. Certainly, watching (or binge-watching) a well-scripted, narrative drama seems to be joining the ranks of high-culture entertainment media consumption. End of article

 

About the authors

Lindsey C. Maxwell is an assistant professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Southern Mississippi.
E-mail: Lindsey [dot] Conlin [at] usm [dot] edu

Alec C. Tefertiller is an assistant professor of advertising at Kansas State University
E-mail: alect [at] k-state [dot] edu

 

Notes

1. Gerrig, 1993, p. 7.

2. Murray, 1997, p. 98.

3. Green, et al., 2004, p. 315.

4. Sweetser and Wyeth, 2005, p. 3.

5. Tal-Or and Cohen, 2010, p. 405.

6. Green and Brock, 2002, p. 326.

7. Dal Cin, et al., 2004, p. 183.

8. Green and Jenkins, 2014, p. 490.

9. Green, et al., 2004, p. 314.

10. Oliver and Bartsch, 2010, p. 59.

11. Zillmann, 1996, p. 200.

12. Zillmann, et al., 1975, p. 307.

13. Green, et al., 2004, p. 312.

14. Klimmt, et al., 2009, p. 29.

15. Sweetser and Wyeth, 2005, p. 1.

16. Conlin and Billings, 2015, p. 7.

17. Pittman and Sheehan, 2015, paragraph 17.

18. Carr, 2014, paragraph 4.

19. Cusumano, 2016, paragraph 2.

20. Carr, 2014, paragraph 3.

21. Green, et al., 2004, p. 322.

 

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Appendix

Survey measures

Transportability

  1. I can easily envision events in the TV show
  2. I find I can easily lose myself in the TV show
  3. I find it difficult to tune out activity around me
  4. I get mentally involved in the TV show
  5. I can easily put the TV show out of my mind after I’m done watching
  6. I sometimes feel as if I am part of the TV show
  7. I am often impatient to find out how the TV show ends
  8. I find that I can easily take the perspective of the characters in the TV show
  9. I am often emotionally affected by what I’ve watched
  10. I find myself accepting events that I might have otherwise considered unbelievable
  11. I find myself thinking about other ways the story could have ended
  12. I have vivid images of the events in the TV show

Transportation

  1. While I was watching/reading/playing [show/book/video game], I could easily picture the events in it taking place
  2. While I was watching/reading/playing [show/book/video game], activity going on in the room around me was on my mind
  3. I could picture myself in the events of [show/book/video game]
  4. I was mentally involved in [show/book/video game] while watching/reading/playing it
  5. After finishing [show/book/video game], it was easy to put it out of my mind
  6. I wanted to learn how [show/book/video game] ended
  7. [show/book/video game] affected me emotionally
  8. I found myself thinking of ways that [show/book/video game] could have ended differently
  9. I found my mind wandering while I was watching/reading/playing [show/book/video game]
  10. The events in [show/book/video game] are relevant to my daily life
  11. The events in [show/book/video game] have changed my life

Hedonic enjoyment

  1. It was fun for me to watch/read/play [show/book/video game]
  2. I had a good time watching/reading/playing [show/book/video game]
  3. [show/book/video game] was entertaining

Appreciation

  1. I found [show/book/video game] to be very meaningful
  2. I was moved by [show/book/video game]
  3. [show/book/video game] was thought provoking

Lasting impression

  1. [show/book/video game] will stick with me for a long time
  2. I know I will never forget [show/book/video game]
  3. [show/book/video game] left me with a lasting impression

Suspense

  1. I was at the edge of my seat while watching/reading/playing [show/book/video game]
  2. [show/book/video game] was a heart-pounding show
  3. [show/book/video game] was suspenseful

 


Editorial history

Received 29 April 2018; revised 11 July 2019; revised 13 July 2019; accepted 14 July 2019.


Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Watching is the new reading: Comparing the outcomes of popular books, TV shows, and video games
by Lindsey C. Maxwell and Alec C. Tefertiller.
First Monday, Volume 24, Number 8 - 5 August 2019
https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/9157/8055
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i8.9157





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