The Gaming Advantage
Dear Concerned American Parents,
It has been brought to my attention that within the last decade parents in the United States frequently blame video games for issues such as addiction, depression, and most importantly, raised aggression in youth lives. Before the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, arcade games and hand-held video games were thought of as a beneficial tool for children’s learning abilities. Since the shooting occurred, adults have raced forward to find external causes for such a terrifyingly inexplicable occurrence of youth violence. Study after study suggested corrosive, moral, social, and attentional effects of video games on children’s lives. However, virtually all studies of games began with the assumption that the effects of games are intrinsically negative – not even considering their positive aspects. You may not realize or fully understand the benefits of these so called dangerous violent games, and how they may actually improve children’s way of learning.
Usually the initial reaction to violent video games is shock. “Why do my children like to play a game where they can kill other people? Break laws?” You might wonder if a child plays these games, will they repeat the same violent actions? Violent video games may display the form of violence, but they do not cause the violence to occur. Sales of video games have more than quadrupled from 1995 to 2012, while the arrest rate for juvenile murders has fallen 71.9%. The arrest rate for all juvenile violent crimes declined 49.3% in the same period (Crime In The United States). Not only have those rates dropped, studies show that there are beneficial effects that come from gaming. They directly challenge the brain in ways that daily life is not always capable. They confront one’s abilities; as the players get better the game demands they move up to harder levels of gameplay.
Many games involve puzzles, which is a direct mental task for the brain. Action-based video games have been shown to boost visual acuity, as well as spacial perception (Davidson). Some games are complex and strategy-based, which can improve cognitive skills such as memory and reasoning. Other research reveals improved hand-eye coordination, enhanced physical dexterity, and more precise fine motor movements as a result of game play, again not only during the game, but after it (Davidson). War-like games similar to Call of Duty and Gears of War, require teamwork amongst players to defeat the opposing side. Although these games are violent, they improve cooperation and team-building skills. At age six I started playing games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and other than the occasional frustration deciding who would be “Player 1”, or playfully hitting a friend in the back if they won, I can’t say the games ever caused me to be violent. Even after playing the current violent Xbox 360 and PS3 games, I feel no desire to harm anyone. Older generations and parents sometimes don’t fully understand new technologies, and base their opinions on what they see happening on the screen.
You might think that these violent video games cause “America’s nice boys and girls into know-nothing misfits capable of pathological violence” (Davidson). Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the initiators of the Columbine massacre, played Doom. Doom was a landmark 1993 first-person shooter video game that pioneered immersive 3D graphics. Players assume the role of a space marine who must fight his way through a military base on Mars’ moon, Phobos, and kill the demons from Hell (Gamebrew). Of course games like Doom may seem appalling in their violence, and there are potential horrific school shooters who play games like this. 97% of teenagers are now playing games, and probably someone among them seriously disturbed enough to perpetrate a tragedy. However it’s more likely that these gamers will be much more successful than non-game players in their careers. In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article argued that the teenage gamer carries the skills needed for potential leadership in politics and commerce in our time. John Seely Brown, one of the earliest and perennial visionaries of the information age, and Douglas Thomas, a communications professor at the University of Southern California and avid gamer, have noted that online games are “large, complex, constantly evolving social systems” (Davidson). They created five key attributes of what they term the “Gamer Disposition”:
- They are bottom-line oriented (because games have embedded systems of measurement and assessment);
- They understand the power of diversity (because success requires teamwork among those with a rich mix of talents and abilities);
- They thrive on change (because nothing is consistent in a game);
- They see learning as fun (because the fun of the game lies in learning how to overcome obstacles); and
- They “marinate” on the edge (because to succeed, they must absorb radical alternatives and imbibe innovative strategies for completing tasks)
It’s hard to think of better qualities for success in our digital age. If children continue to be introduced to new forms of gaming technology, it’s more likely they will end up with stronger skills than those raised without.
Concerned parents fear that habitual video game use amongst children causes them to become lazy, addicted, and to fall behind in school (Life Is Just a Game). If kids are enthralled with games, why not make exciting ones that also aid and inspire learning? Evidence suggests procedural, strategic thinking game play is more conducive to inspired science making than is cramming for end-of-term tests. Game designer and professor at Parsons The New School for Design, Katie Salen, founded Quest 2 Learn. This public middle school in Manhattan, features classes taught on gaming principals. As Salen notes, the concept of gaming extends far beyond stereotypical video games in the same way that the concept of learning extends far beyond the standard configuration of a classroom or a multiple choice test. “Gaming is play across media, time, social spaces, and networks. . . . It requires an attitude toward risk taking, meaning creation, nonlinear navigation, problem solving, an understanding of rule structures, and an acknowledgment of agency within that structure, to name a few of the basic elements of games” (Davidson).
If more schools were set up this way; utilizing the technology that makes up our culture today, I firmly believe children would have an easier time grasping concepts. Personally, I had an extremely hard time learning subjects like mathematics in my younger years. It was a struggle because, simply, it wasn’t a fun learning experience. If the harder subjects were integrated into games, learning would not only be more fun for children, but it would be easier to understand and apply to every day life.
While playing video games, children master the collaborative methods that not only allow them to succeed in their games but provide abilities demanded more frequently in the workplace of their future. Maybe if you have some time, sit down with your child and play video games with them. When I was five my father and I played the very first Prince of Persia game on our Macintosh, and it’s one of the most distinct memories I have of my childhood. We both had fun together, and bonded over the various puzzles and obstacles in the game. Video Games are advancing quickly, and more companies are producing game consoles geared towards the family audience. In the future, I believe video games will be used as a tool for educating in schools, a method of bonding between friends and family, and also will continue to be a great source of entertainment for everyone.
- Tim Lenoir has astutely documented what he calls “military-entertainment complex” See Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood “All but War is Simulation: The Military-Entertainment Complex,” Configurations 8, part 3 (2000): 289-36
- Davidson, Cathy N. “The Epic Win.” Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. 145-61. Print.
- “Doom 1 – Gamebrew.com.” Flash Games – Online Games at Gamebrew.com. Web. 13 Jan. 2012. <http://www.gamebrew.com/game/doom-1/play>.
- “Crime in the United States, 2008,” FBI website, Sep. 2009
- “Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry,” Entertainment Software Association website, May 2009
- “The Gamer Disposition – John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas – Harvard Business Review.” HBR Blog Network – Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 14 Feb. 2008. Web. 13 Jan. 2012. <http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2008/02/the_gamer_disposition.html>.
- “The New Atlantis » Life Is Just a Game.” The New Atlantis – A Journal of Technology & Society. Winter 2008. Web. 13 Jan. 2012. <http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/life-is-just-a-game>.
- Press, The Associated. “Freedomforum.org: Columbine Lawsuit against Makers of Video Games, Movies Thrown out.” The Freedom Forum. Web. 15 Jan. 2012. <http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=15820>.