Around 2011, I made a PowerPoint presentation for my parents as a persuasive method to get them to understand why video games were awesome, and why they were so much more than what they remember them being. Video games have, historically, been simply a pastime; a “waste of time,” even. From Pong to Donkey Kong, video games were enjoyable distractions without ever being much more.
Fast forward to 2018 where video games serve as a pillar of modern narratives alongside prose, cinema, and serial television, yet don’t garner the respect deserved because of the moniker “video game.” In a perfect world, video games would still be called such but what most gamers are playing nowadays should be called something much more. Most “video games” nowadays offer sprawling open worlds with interactive storytelling capabilities allowing the player to help tell the story all while exploring, problem-solving, analyzing, and having fun.
Since it’s no longer 2011 and I’m more of an objective thinker, I’m going to include arguments from both sides to the video game argument (specifically, the “are video games good or bad for you” argument). Before I get into this, I want you to ask yourself these two questions: 1) Is it okay for somebody to spend their nights playing video games? 2) Is it okay for somebody to spend their nights reading literature? If those answers are different, think about why that may be and stick around to see if your thoughts are addressed in this analysis.
“Video games are bad for you”
Let’s unearth some of the reasons why people think that statement is true.
- You’ll get fat
The first reason I’ve read on most of the news, health, and culture websites I’ve visited is that it’s an unhealthy hobby. “It’s hard to get enough active play and exercise if you’re always inside playing video games. And without enough exercise, kids can become overweight” (KidsHealth) which, objectively, is true. However, if you want to use that argument then school is also unhealthy because you don’t get exercise working at a desk. We need to find arguments that are video game specific in order for progress to be made.
- You’ll develop violent characteristics
Also on KidsHealth, the notion that kids will become violent if subjected to games such as, say Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, or any other modern shooter is brought up (but not emphasized, I may add). Moving over to the Center4Research.org article on Violent Video Games, which states:
Studies have shown that playing violent video games can increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in both the short-term and long-term. Violent video games can also desensitize people to seeing aggressive behavior and decrease prosocial behaviors such as helping another person and feeling empathy (the ability to understand others). The longer that individuals are exposed to violent video games, the more likely they are to have aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. These effects have been seen in studies in both Eastern and Western countries. Although males spend more time than females playing violent video games, violent video game exposure can increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in both sexes.
Yet, the next paragraph reads “Unfortunately, few studies have been completed on violent video game exposure and aggression in children under age 10” which brings me to the heart of this “violent video game” argument: they are not for kids. Violent video games are either rated T for Teen or M for Mature, neither one is suitable for kids under the age of 13. Letting your kid play Call of Duty or anything else with an M rating would be worse than allowing them to watch an R-rated movie because instead of just seeing what makes the movie R-rated, they’re actually doing those things.
The notion that video games cause violence is parallel to “stress balls promote strangulation,” because the opposite is true. Some people power lift, some people run, some people box punching bags, some people squeeze stress balls, and some people play video games. All of these activities are ways to relieve stress yet only one of those is “highly controversial” because inaccurate notions exist around the effects.
Just at the beginning of this year, the University of New York conducted an experiment with more than 3,000 participants to find out if violent video games cause (or increase) violent behavior. Their conclusion: “Researchers have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent” (ScienceDaily).
- It’s bad for your eyes
No. You may get headaches from staring at flashing pixels for too long but that goes for any sort of screen, and can be relieved by doing a lap around the house and blinking. Boom, done.
Let’s talk about the two games I mentioned previously: Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, two games usually at the heart of the video game argument. Call of Duty is a military shooter, rewarding players for killing enemies on the other side of the war. Military.com posted an article in 2016 detailing six of the games that the US Government uses to train troops to prepare for the battlefield. While this game isn’t on the list, Call of Duty is a military shooter that rewards killing and punished dying. Since this game is rated M, it’s training players to have teamwork, communication skills, attack plans, and smart tactics on the battlefield.
Of course, those traits extend to more places than just the CG battlefields that Call of Duty has to offer. Even simple things like morning traffic or lines at the concession stand are avenues to apply skills learned from video games: analyze all options, and choose the one that will save you the most time yielding the least potential consequences. That’s certainly not something that school teaches you but is something that you can learn in the first hour of any video game on store shelves. Now, I’m not saying that the things one learns in school are not valuable assets, but they are certainly different assets. School makes you book smart, but video games make you street smart. Again, a disclaimer: video games are not a substitute for the real world (well, maybe in this political and cultural climate) but are an unparalleled enhancement to the number and quality of experiences you can have with a wide spectrum of personality types.
I would much rather run into an unabashed, shameless, horrendous asshole on the streets of some make-believe world inside a computer than on the streets, but doing so first in a video game would prepare me for doing so in the real world. Historically, there are two ways to handle it: fight or flight. But that’s not true anymore, is it? Sure, that’s what school teaches people but there are many other ways to handle an aggressive adversary besides “fight or flight” (those two are certainly simple and primitive options).
Before I get into Grand Theft Auto, let’s discuss another game by the same developer that comes out in just a few months, a game that your kid will most certainly want to pick up: Red Dead Redemption II.
Before I get into the breathtaking, beautiful footage shown and details given, an important note: in this gameplay trailer, the narrator states “Confrontations can be escalated or diffused. You can form friendships, or make enemies as you choose.” If that’s not a valuable life lesson that expands on the primitive “fight or flight” options we’re taught, then… well, you must be crazy.
Rockstar games is also responsible for the Grand Theft Auto series, which is not just a game that asks you to shoot, drink, steal, smoke, rape, pillage, plunder, destroy, and wreak havoc. I don’t know where some people got those ideas but they really couldn’t be further from the truth. GTA gives you the option to kill and steal but hardly ever rewards them. You can run into the gas station and threaten the cashier to give him the money, but cops will be after you to arrest or kill you for doing so. The game certainly punishes players for handling situations poorly and many missions offer stealth options to sneak around violent confrontations. Hardly ever do video games ask you to kill innocent civilians for no good reason, and when they do, they’re met with extreme backlash and controversy:
Because of the controversy around this mission (which as mentioned, asked you to kill innocent civilians, though as terrorists), it was removed from the game in some countries, and in the rest, skipping the mission was an option given to players. Also, as they mentioned, graphic content filters (in the past, “blood” option in Tony Hawk) can be turned on or off to either hide or show gore when killing other players or people in the game.
So what do video games do that are so bad?
Honestly, very litte. There are so few AAA titles that can be blamed for anything bad. When the games are analyzed and the gamers studied, no proof of correlation between gaming behavior and real-life aggression is found. What we have here is stigma, and that’s it. Stigma, and parents that just need to be aware of what their kids are playing. Check out that ESRB Rating on the box, watch some YouTube reviews/gameplay, and then make the decision if your kid should be playing it or not. Ultimately, if your kid shoots up a school, then the biggest problem there is that he found a gun nearby. While the blame may immediately go to video games that he was playing, they were most likely made for people above his age range which would turn the blame to the parent.
I’ve been playing Halo since I was six years old, a game rated M for Blood and Gore, and Violence. My parents’ allowance of this game came with the disclaimer: it’s because it’s alien violence and not real warfare. To their credit, this is true. And I wouldn’t hurt a fly (I’d say “hey lil’ buddy, let’s get you outside to your family”). Since then, I’ve played hundreds of video games, read just as many books, and watched thousands of movies. I majored in Narrative Storytelling after creating my own major at Indiana University, created my own course list, curriculum, and syllabus, and landed in the 95th percentile on the SATs. I’ve never broken a bone, gotten in trouble with the law, or gotten a single speeding ticket. I’ve only been in one fight but it was because somebody I didn’t like tripped my friend, who dropped his stuff on the floor in a crowded hallway. Because of that, I punched the other kid into a locker who went to the bathroom and cried. Debatably the only “violent” thing I’ve ever done, and it was to stand up for the little guy (quite literally, he’s a short fella).
Have video games affected me in any negative way? Absolutely not. Video games are beautiful, thought-provoking, and able to teach so many valuable lessons and skills. I’ve learned to problem-solve, think critically, plan for all outcomes but hope for the best, communicate expertly with teammates, chart a list of things to do organized by reward-level and priority, graph functions, make difficult decisions, and try to handle things out of my control to the best of my ability. While classic schooling or parenting can tell kids how to react in certain situations, actually having them be in those situations to learn from a series of trial and error is the best way to learn. Why would parents rob kids of opportunities like this simply because of a stigma against something called a “video game”?
So, what did that 2011 PowerPoint say? Everything that the previous paragraph offered, as well as some important additions.
- In Batman: Arkham City, I can soar around the skyscrapers of Gotham City, taking down henchman, battling villains, and saving civilians as Batman.
- In Red Dead Redemption, I can roam the 1900’s Wild West, hunting animals, fighting gangs and cartels, and saving the frontier as a cowboy.
- In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I can sneak around the streets of 16th Century Rome during the time of the Templars, assassinating bad guys, and preventing the end of the world as an assassin.
…and so on. Video games allow gamers to experience worlds that they NEVER would be able to otherwise in ways that you usually get to direct yourself. Sure, you can look at those games an cherry pick elements that would paint them in a bad light such as “allow your kids to punch people as Batman, shoot people as a cowboy, or stab people as an assassin” but that’s neither honest nor fair. And GTA isn’t murdering and stealing, and CoD isn’t killing and bombing.
These games and almost all others offer experiences that we need as creative, explorative, and curious people. Storytelling is the longest lasting art form in existence, and video games are one of the best avenues for experiencing such storytelling. Don’t deny kids their right to experience games, just know which games they’re playing — that’s the important part.
Do, however, set a certain limit to how much they play. Staring at a television screen for too long doesn’t cause damage, doesn’t hurt your eyes, and most certainly doesn’t give you cancer, but it can give you slight headaches that can easily be relieved by just doing something else for a short period of time. Also, since I’m a promoter of analytical thinking and writing, have your kid write reviews of the games played to share with other parents and their kids. Start a little dialogue, have a neighborhood gaming night where kids get together and parents hang out in the same room. Parents drink wine, kids play games, and everybody bonds. Making games into the bad guys just robs kids of positive experiences, develops spite against the parents, and will just make the kids play the most violent games every time the parents are away.
All good things, in moderation.
Comment below your thoughts! Did I miss something? Is there more clarification needed? Just let me know down below and I’ll do my best to address it. As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!