Low resolution reading

The Interface Envelope is about how we interact with video games, and in it James Ash describes the concept of “resolution”. Naturally, it has connotations relating to optics—the information transmitted through a thing’s appearance. But James Ash uses it more to describe a player’s ability to interact with an object and to describe an object’s relationship with other objects in its environment.

For example, in a first-person shooter game it’s often necessary to move through a building. The items that player encounters can either be high or low resolution. If the player comes across a table, but cannot interact with it—climb over it, stand atop it, shelter under it, move it elsewhere—then the table is low resolution. If the player can do all these things, as well as break off a table leg and use it as a weapon, the table is high resolution.

This concept of resolution is revelatory for me, if only because it puts a name to the aversion I’ve found I have to reading digital books. Sure, I love the portability, the ease, the searchability and the other benefits of digital texts. But I find them hard to interact with. When I read a physical book I always have a pen in hand. I write next to the text, fold pages down, flick forwards and backwards. All these activities are possible with digital books of course, but they feel dampened, robbed of their vitality in some way.

For me, consuming books digitally is a low resolution way of reading. Consuming physical books offers more resolution to me, so it is this that I will continue to do.