Where Are the First Person Bookstores?

Recently, John Scalzi announced a new first-person shooter game that he is involved with. I’m not a big gamer, but I’ve played my fair share of first person shooters. The original Call of Duty was my game of choice many years ago. I was always impressed with the details of the surrounding world, how you could walk through all kinds of terrain, open doors, look in cupboards, break windows. The physics models that go into those kinds of games–to say nothing of the art in the renderings–is impressive. And the technology is always improving. These games must be almost life-like today in their visual experiences. Add in gesture-based control and 3D and you really do find yourself immersed in a virtual world.

And so it amazes me that with all of this technology available, no one has yet used it to create first person bookstores. I simply cannot believe this hasn’t happened yet.

Despite its massive catalog, one of the biggest complain of Amazon, or Powell’s, or even those independent bookstores that maintain an online presence is that you lose the ability to simply wander the stacks and browse. But it seems to me that this doesn’t have to be the case. The technology is out there to recreate a physical bookstore in a virtual environment. Imagine wandering through a virtual bookstore using the same technology that first person shooter games use. You could walk down the stacks, pausing to browse at what’s on the shelf. A gesture could select a book, which you could then browse portions that the publisher had made available for preview. If you wanted the book, you could add it to your “cart” and move on, continuing to browse until you are ready to check out. You don’t even need to be willing to read the books online. If you wanted e-book editions and they were available, upon checkout, they’d simply be downloaded to your e-reader. But if the virtual bookstore maintained a live inventory and only allowed you to add “physical” copies of the book when they were available, upon checkout, the paper books would be shipped to you.

Moreover, many games these days are online and you can interact with your friends and other players. You can see their avatars and team up with them to fight a common enemy–or each other. The same would be true of the first person bookstore. You could meet up with friends in the virtual bookstore and wander the stacks together, recommend books to one another. It wouldn’t matter if I was in Virginia and you were in Portland. We could hang out in a virtual rendering of a used bookstore on Second Avenue in New York City and wander through it, seeing it as it would appear if we were there.

It seems to me that this is one way brick and mortar bookstores might reclaim some of the patronage they lose to places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They would no longer be depended on just their physical presence, because anyone could wander through their stacks and browse for books, just as if they were in the store itself.

I’m not saying this technology comes cheap. But the technology does exist, and to my knowledge, no one has yet described exploiting first person shooter technology in quite this way. I, for one, would be lost for hours at a time wandering the virtual stacks of bookstores that were too far away for me to visit in person.

And I’d be spending my money in them as well.


  1. I think its processing power and bandwidth, Jamie. A three dimensional virtual universe such as you describe has been tried and still exists, although not explicitly bookstores:

    Second Life.

    From my experiences there (I used to write for a magazine there, did you know that?), whenever more than a few hundred people were in an area, the world froze to a crawl. A virtual bookstore would have the same problems.

    There are a few museums which have point by point virtual tours, but you would need a lot more “points” to do a bookstore, and it would have to be continually updated.

  2. A first person shopper. I like that.

    Amazon has always had the worst searching for books. I always thought a good format would be the word-cloud type interface you see a lot.



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