Earlier today my friend Isaac published a blog post about how video games have been beneficial to his son, and it really got me thinking about my experiences with video games. Growing up, I played a fair amount of video games. My family wasn’t wealthy, in fact, we were probably poor, so we didn’t have the “newest” games or systems, but we did have some wonderful games. Particularly, I was into Role Playing Games (RPGs). This was all in the 80’s and early 90’s, which means the games I played had limited graphics but could have pretty in-depth stories.
My favorites took place in fantasy worlds with dragons, sword fights, and magic. I loved franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy in part because it took me to a world very different than my own. I wasn’t escaping reality (though, I think video games get a bad rap when it comes to that… you can escape reality and responsibility through a lot of things) but I was being introduced to new worlds and concepts. For someone like me, who isn’t particularly creative, it was awe-inspiring to have adventures like this. Video games also greatly expanded my vocabulary beyond what school could do at a young age. In 1st grade I needed to understand words like “quest” and “dungeon”, and be able to follow complex instructions to solve problems and move on to the next stage.
In video games you are rewarded for hard work, perseverance, and creative problem solving in a very tangible way. Your character levels up, you get stronger and you have more tools at your disposal to solve future problems. You make it to new stages that get more difficult and are rewarded as you move forward.
Even back in the 80’s and 90’s playing video games wasn’t just a solo activity (though, technology allows it to be a social activity today in some amazing ways). I remember many days over at my friend Frank’s house pouring over Nintendo Power magazines to look for new tips and hidden areas in our favorite video games. I would play the games with my brother’s, often taking terms at the controls but as a group trying to solve the puzzles and defeat the enemies. Back then games could usually only save 1-3 games at a time and this forced my large family to collaborate together. It encouraged communication and teamwork.
Video games are tools, like so many other things in our society. They shouldn’t be demonized or cast aside because they are fun. Enjoying what you do is not a bad thing and value creation (within yourself or for society) doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. Video games, like sports or other “hobbies”, can open up possibilities within each of us that we never knew existed. They can challenge our mind, help us grow as people, and provide practice in dealing with the stress and troubles that will inevitably creep up on us in “the real world”. Sure, they can be abused, but so can everything in this world. Sports (watching or playing), food, reading, exercise, travel, drugs, and basically everything int world can turn into a dangerous escape from reality and neglect our responsibilities, but they are also all an important part of the human experience that can enrich our lives and make us better people. Healthy use of something has nothing to do with the tool but everything to do with the person wielding it. Video games are no exception.