A few weeks ago I learned that a close friend of mine had been banned from playing video games by his parents.
I thought it was a joke. After all, my friend isn’t a high-school student with failing grades. He’s a recent college graduate and a working professional. Apparently his parents think video games are “counterproductive.”
My friend’s case is an extreme one, but the hostile attitude that many parents have toward gaming is all too common. The sad truth is that most people still think that video games are for kids. People see video games as juvenile hobbies that you’re meant to grow out of, or worse, dangerous obsessions that turn your brain into mush.
But as anyone who has played them knows, this isn’t the case. Here are a few arguments that will hopefully clear up some of the misconceptions.
Stereotypes about violence exaggerated
Video games are a convenient bogeyman. They’ve been blamed for everything—from school shootings to devil worship. But how much of that is actually true?
The evidence is mixed on whether video games cause aggression. Some studies have shown a link; other studies have found no connection. What is clear is that the growth in popularity of violent games has not translated to a rise in violence. An article in the Washington Post compared the video game spending per capita of 10 countries with the number of gun-related murders.
The data found “no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings.”
Millions of Filipino kids under the age of 21 have played Counterstrike, Defense of the Ancients (Dota), Left 4 Dead, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty—all violent games where the only way to win is to end the lives of opponents. If video games truly had the effect that critics claim, then there would be hordes of 15-year-olds roaming the streets with shotguns and machetes.
That’s not to say that kids can play anything they want. Parents should consult age and content ratings to determine if games are appropriate for their children.
Positive effects on the brain
Contrary to what most people think, games are far from mindless. To succeed in a game like Dota, for example, requires an encyclopedic knowledge of your character’s strengths and weaknesses, fast reflexes and a well-planned team strategy.
If anything, video games demand more from you than television because they require you to be an active participant. You can’t simply zone out in front of a game of League of Legends like you could on an episode of “Gandang Gabi Vice.”
Now, scientific evidence has proven that games can be good for your brain as well. According to several studies by the American Psychological Association, games “strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception” and help develop problem-solving skills in children.
This is no surprise to anyone who’s played video games. Action games such as Uncharted force you to solve complex puzzles in order to advance; and fighting games like Tekken require you to memorize long button combos in order to pull off powerful moves.
And that’s not all. Games have also been shown to improve the reading skills of dyslexic children, help stroke victims recover, slow the mental decay of aging and treat posttraumatic stress disorder in soldiers.
Games are not just about slaying monsters or collecting gold coins. They can teach us about the real world. In my case, video games helped kindle a lifelong passion for history. Age of Empires II introduced me to the stories of Attila the Hun, Joan of Arc and Genghis Khan more effectively than any textbook ever could. Of course, nothing will replace a book, but games can help spark kids’ interest by making historical topics fun and accessible.
Games can teach us military strategy (the Total War series), Greek mythology (God of War), interior design (The Sims), the basics of playing guitar (Rocksmith), and even rudimentary urban planning (SimCity).
And if that’s not enough, there’s a whole genre of educational games that are explicitly meant to teach your kids typing, algebra or English.
The media has long painted gamers as losers, basement-dwelling nerds or Internet café bums hanging on to their last shred of childhood. Today, that’s far from accurate. Everybody plays games. I’ve seen athletes, preteen girls, lawyers and medical school students who are avid gamers. And if the number of middle-aged adults inviting me to play Candy Crush and
Farmville on Facebook are any indication, gaming is no longer the sole domain of the young.
Nowadays, banning your kids from playing video games actually ostracizes them from their peers and hampers their ability to make friends. Whether you like it or not, it’s undeniable—kids build camaraderie and establish connections through video games. Just take a look inside a crowded Internet café.
Games are art
Do you think gaming can’t be beautiful? Watch a sunset go down over the desert in Red Dead Redemption, gaze up at the star-filled sky from a snow-capped mountain in Skyrim or navigate a petal through a colorful field in Flower.
Do you think gaming will destroy your creativity? Titles like Minecraft, Little Big Planet and Roller Coaster Tycoon give you the ability to create intricate, virtual worlds that push the boundaries of your imagination.
Do you think gaming doesn’t have great stories? Uncover the vicious class struggle in the city of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite; explore the mysteries of an empty world populated by giant beasts in Shadow of the Colossus; or wrestle with the moral ambiguity of your decisions in Mass Effect. Unlike film or literature, games allow you to make choices and become an active participant in moving the story forward.
Gaming is a valid medium of artistic expression, with meaningful things to say about life and the human condition. At its best, it can challenge our way of thinking and teach us to dream.
Give it a chance
As Bob Dylan implored in “The Times They Are a-Changin’”: “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” People will always fear that which they do not comprehend. In the ’50s, they said rock ’n’ roll would destroy society. We can now safely conclude that was an exaggeration. Now video games are getting the same treatment.
Video games are entertainment, just like watching TV, reading books and listening to music. The key is moderation. As long as your kids are focused on their priorities, then there is no reason to worry about them playing a little Mario every now and then.
With an open mind, anyone can find something to love in a video game.
You just have to press play.
The author is a freelance writer based in San Diego, California, with interests in technology, film, books and travel. He believes he has saved the world a dozen times in video games.