Video games have long been a lightning rod for criticism. Experts have spent countless hours debating whether or not video games turn people into killers, cause people to die, and create addictions. While some of these problems are a disturbing reality and should be taken seriously, there is no doubt that the media has a tendency to blow certain things about video games a bit out of proportion. There are two sides to every coin however, and with so much negative press surrounding games and their harmful effects on those who play them there must be some positive effects games have on their consumers as well. So as a counter argument to the popular notion that video games are corrupting the youth of the world, here are 5 ways video games are actually good for you.
5. PLAYING A VIDEO GAME IS NOT ALWAYS FUN
What you’re doing:
One of the best kept secrets in the world of video games is that for a disturbingly large amount of time, they simply are not fun. Every person who has ever attempted to play a game for any extended period of time has come to a point where they simply cannot progress any further. They are stuck. So they stop, turn the game off, and return to reality. The kicker is, even when the game is off, they will spend hours playing the problem over and over in their mind trying to piece together a solution that may never come. Take for example the tale of Troy Stolle, a 30-something form carpenter who found himself entrenched in Ultima Online and the subject of a profile by Julian Dibbell. Dibbell describes Stolle’s actions in Ultima Online in order to procure his avatar, named Nils Hansen, one of the finest dwellings in the entire realm.
“Stolle had had to come up with the money for the deed. To get the money, he had to sell his old house. To get that house in the first place, he had to spend hours crafting virtual swords and plate mail to sell to a steady clientele of about three dozen fellow players. To attract and keep that clientele, he had to bring Nils Hansen's blacksmithing skills up to Grandmaster. To reach that level, Stolle spent six months doing nothing but smithing: He clicked on hillsides to mine ore, headed to a forge to click the ore into ingots, clicked again to turn the ingots into weapons and armor, and then headed back to the hills to start all over again, each time raising Nils' skill level some tiny fraction of a percentage point, inching him closer to the distant goal of 100 points and the illustrious title of Grandmaster Blacksmith.
Take a moment now to pause, step back, and consider just what was going on here: Every day, month after month, a man was coming home from a full day of bone-jarringly repetitive work with hammer and nails to put in a full night of finger-numbingly repetitive work with "hammer" and "anvil" - and paying $9.95 per month for the privilege. Ask Stolle to make sense of this, and he has a ready answer: "Well, it's not work if you enjoy it." Which, of course, begs the question: Why would anyone enjoy it?”
Ultima Online was all about 'smithing' and 'getting smashed by dragons'
So why do gamers perform tasks such as these? It’s inevitable that in every game there will come a time where the player will be forced to complete a trivial series of tasks in order to advance further into the game. In the end, it all comes down to fulfillment.
Why it’s good:
Among the criticism of games is that they only provide instant gratification. However, through tales such as Troy Stolle’s, it’s clear that this isn’t always the case. Games can offer instant gratification, but the real benefit of modern games is the deferred gratification and deferred gratification is the key to setting successful goals later in life.
Say you want to earn a promotion at your new job. First, you make yourself known around the office as a hard-worker and a team-player. Next, you ‘brown nose’ your bosses and the people above you in order to get a chance at one of the more ‘important’ projects around the office. Then, you use that opportunity to prove that you are the kind of person that should move up within the hierarchy of the company. That is deferred gratification. You do not walk into your bosses’ office, demand a promotion, and get one there on the spot. That makes you seem like a whiny child (who your boss will probably think played too many games as a kid).
4. PLAYING A VIDEO GAME REQUIRES TEAMWORK
What you’re doing:
It’s 3AM. The glow of the computer monitor bathes the room in a cool blue glow that is easy to find relaxing. But for the person behind the monitor, the situation is anything but calming. That person is clicking away at a maddening pace trying to activate a variety of spells and effects to slay a pack of monsters. And they’re not doing it alone because someone, somewhere, is doing the same thing alongside them in a virtual realm.
And this sense of teamwork extends to a variety of games, not simply online games such as Ultima and World of Warcraft. Even violent games such as Call of Duty and Halo breed a sense of teamwork when it is taken seriously.
When watching these players it is clear that communication is tantamount to their success. Constantly teammates are calling out enemy locations, weapon placement, ammo counts, and a variety of other things my brain simply cannot comprehend.
Why it’s good:
Teamwork is crucial to success in life, in both the gaming and the business world. And, similar to deferred gratification, it all comes down to a sense of accomplishment. When working alongside someone, people are more inclined to put forth their best effort. The better effort put forth, the more proud people are in their work. More pride in their work and people are rewarded with a greater sense of accomplishment, both in success and in failure.
Teamwork is just socially accepted peer pressure
3. PLAYING A VIDEO GAME REQUIRES A SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT PROCESS
What you’re doing:
When someone reads a book, they are constantly searching for the ‘why’. Why did this character do this action? Why did no one else react this way? Compare this thought process to someone who is playing a video game. When someone plays a game, they are going through a complex series of ‘cause-and-effect’ problems. If I pull the lever, then the trap door will open. If the trap door opens, the dragon will be released. If the Dragon is released, then I will be attacked…
And this thought process can span hundreds of steps. Steven Johnson, author of the national bestseller Everything Bad Is Good for You, compares the thought processes behind a person who is playing a game of checkers to a person playing The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
“A real-world game of checkers would generate a list of comparable simplicity:
1. Your goal is to capture all of your opponent’s pieces.
2. To do this, you must move one piece each turn, capturing pieces where possible.
2a.You may also revive your own captured pieces by reaching the other side of the board.
A map of objectives in the latest Zelda game, The Wind Waker, looks quite different:
1. Your ultimate goal is to rescue your sister.
2. To do this, you must defeat the villain Ganon.
3. To do this, you must obtain legendary weapons.
4. To locate the weapons, you need the pearl of Din.
5. To get the pearl of Din, you need to cross the ocean.
6. To cross the ocean, you need to find a sailboat.
7. To do all of the above, you need to stay alive and healthy.
8. To do all of the above, you need to move the controller.”
Steven Johnson himself admits that even this is a gross oversimplification of what a player must do in order to complete each step he lists out of The Wind Waker; and each individual step involves 7 or 8 steps of its own. Certainly, Steven Johnson is not out to make a case that checkers has no intellectual merit. Merely that, like the reading example used above, playing games simply flexes different cerebral muscles than other activities.
Why it’s good:
Not all games are going to have the same level of complexity as a Zelda game. Some will have more complex objectives and others will have much simpler goals, but the underlying thought process for someone playing these games is largely similar.
'Find a cure for cancer or find the missing audio diary in Bioshock...."
Researcher James Paul Gee has boiled this thought process into a version of the scientific method he refers to as “probe, hypothesize, reprobe, and rethink cycle”. In his process, Gee states that gamers begin by probing a virtual world. The player then must hypothesize about what objects in the virtual world can be manipulated in a meaningful way. Next, the player must reprobe the environment with the hypothesis in mind and see what effect their action had. Finally, based on the feedback from their previous action, the player must rethink their original hypothesis. This thought process, as alluded to earlier, has ties to the thought process used in the scientific method.
2. PLAYING A VIDEO GAME NOW HAS HEALTH BENEFITS
What you’re doing:
A large number of people ran out several years ago to purchase the new motion-controlled system, the Nintendo Wii. Sales of the console simply destroyed the other 2 major players in the console market, causing Sony and Microsoft to offer their own motion-controlled peripherals which were met with varying degrees of success. So now as someone plays one of the popular ‘exercise games’, they are doing more than just killing time.
Why it’s good:
Kim Painter and colleagues like her have begun to try and report on the benefits games such as Wii Fit can have on their users. While Painter is clearly not a fan of video games in general (choosing at one point to mention games can “teach warfare and auto theft”), she does admit that our nation has an obesity problem, and exercise games are a step in the right direction. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already are aware of what Wii Fit is built around. The game seeks to teach players various yoga positions, aerobic exercises, and charts your weight loss progress.
But how much good can games like Wii Fit really do? Painter describes it as such,
“The exercise council is conducting a study to find out. So are researchers at the University of Mississippi. They are lending the game to eight families for three months and recording the results, says Scott Owens, an associate professor of health and exercise science.
"I think that for people who have been inactive, there's a good chance they can see improvements," Owens says. And the game may inspire some to join real yoga classes or jog outside, Bryant adds.
Even hard-core athletes may find some use for such games, says Sue Stanley-Green, a professor of athletic training at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. She is trying Wii Fit as a rehabilitation tool for athletes who are recovering from surgery or injury.”
In other words, we are not sure yet. But fitness experts are hopeful. Ideally, they would like to see games like Wii Fit offer more detailed feedback to the user; but according to Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, “some exercise is better than none.”
Before Wii Fit every person pictured here was 400 pounds.
In addition to the health benefits, we get videos such as this one (which may be NSFW depending on your company’s views on underwear).
1. PLAYING A VIDEO GAME REQUIRES RESEARCH
What you’re doing:
It has already been established that playing games is not easy and often players will find themselves stuck. When a player finds themselves stuck, they turn to a variety of sources for finding the solution to their problem (I highly recommend WikiGameGuides.com). But another source that players used, especially before widespread high-speed internet, was strategy guides. In these mystical tomes players could find solutions to puzzles and the locations of hidden items that made the game easier.
Why it’s good:
It seems like it would be cheating to look up the answer to a problem, it’s like using the back of a math textbook to find the answer to all the odd numbered problems. However, a strategy guide does not differ greatly in terms of purpose than CliffsNotes. CliffsNotes are used as supplemental material to deal with some of the archaic complexity of great literary works. Strategy guides are used by players as supplemental material to deal with some of the complex inner workings of modern video games. The idea behind these supplemental materials is to try and increase a person’s motivation to learn (or play a game) by decreasing the frustration level associated with studying (or playing a video game).
Ultimately, using that strategy guide all comes down to filling in that missing piece of information. As a gamer sit with guides strewn about, leafing through all the pages of the book stopping only to glance back at the screen only to find the guide isn’t as helpful as they were hoping. So the gamer turns to the internet and scours pages and pages of text and video guides until they finally find that solution.
I imagine the Rock Band guide tells you to make sure you press the green fret button when necessary
That is what learning is all about. Recognizing you are missing a vital piece of information and researching the answer in a variety of sources until the answer is found. Because learning is such an essential in a person’s development, it is simply impossible for someone to be a success in life without the ability to find answers from multiple locations and put it all together into a larger solution.
So when a person finds themselves at the top of their field, they should look up a way to contact Shigeru Miyamoto and thank him for making The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; because if it were not for that damn water temple they may never have been a success.
Johnny Lightning writes a variety of articles for wikigameguides.com. He also wants you to follow him on Twitter @RealJohnnyLight