Friday, June 02, 2006

In Defense of Video Games

Brian Anderson points out the positives of much-maligned video games.

The truth is, critics are often ignorant of the moral universe of video games--violent games included. Yes, the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, in which the gamer plays a criminal on the make in the big city, is pretty amoral. But most violent games put the player in a familiar hero's role, notes Judge Richard Posner in a 2001 Seventh Circuit appeals-court decision overturning an Indianapolis anti-video-game ordinance. "Self-defense, protection of others, dread of the 'undead,' fighting against overwhelming odds--these are the age-old themes of literature, and ones particularly appealing to the young," Mr. Posner observes.

Nonviolent games like The Sims franchise, an open-ended computer simulation of suburban life likened by visionary creator Will Wright to a "digital dollhouse," teach players bourgeois virtues. Blogger Glenn Reynolds, who devotes a chapter to gaming in his recent book on technology and society, "An Army of Davids," overheard his young daughter chatting with a friend about The Sims (a favorite among female gamers). "You have to have a job to buy food and things, and if you don't go to work, you get fired," she said matter-of-factly. "And if you spend all your money buying stuff, you have to make more." Thanks to The Sims, Mr. Reynolds says, his daughter now knows how to budget and how to read an income statement. In SimWorld, he notes, "narcissism, hedonism and impulsiveness are punished" and "traditional middle-class virtues, like thrift and planning, generally pay off."

Video games can also exercise the brain in remarkable ways. I recently spent (too) many late-night hours working my way through X-Men: Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse, a game I ostensibly bought for my kids. Figuring out how to deploy a particular grouping of heroes (each of whom has special powers and weaknesses); using trial and error and hunches to learn the game's rules and solve its puzzles; weighing short-term and long-term goals--the experience was mentally exhausting and, when my team finally beat the Apocalypse, exhilarating.
That's nice. My kids are going to play outside and read books.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Like all things, we need balance.

Playing video games can increase knowledge, coordination, computer skills, problem solving skills, and I think is a much better way to spend time than, say, watching Desperate Housewives or American Idol....

However,
It can also help turn one into a stoner who sees life through his World of Warcraft avatar....

Moderation in all things....

greg said...

Balance schmalance. Playing games outside, playing cops and robbers, playing war, playing whiffle ball, playing football, building forts, climbing trees, hunting, fishing, digging holes, chasing birds and squirrels and rabbits and riding bikes increase knowledge, coordination, computer skills, problem solving skills and moreover don't leave kids convulsing on the floor in their own vomit. Plus it teaches kids how to compete against real people in a real setting with real pain and real joy and real sweat. I'd rather have that kid on my team than one who can defend his country's honor in a darkened room with a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of Pepsi in his lap.

Dane said...

Greg, good call, but check out the new way of warfare. I've expereinced more video-game like gadgets in the Air Force than anything else. Video games are a good tool to help train, and even use for combat. (UAV's)

I am/was from the Nintendo generation, and I'm not messed up.(Well, not too much.)

Balance will help. Do like my parents did, let them play video games until you get sick of it, and kick them outside.

-Dane

Mark said...

Once again, I point to Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, which Anderson also mentions. A good corrective to the all-video-games-and-TV-are-evil hysterics.

Anonymous said...

Dane,

Thanks for making my point much more clearly than I did....(I am from the Atari generation...)

I was about to respond to greg, by mentioning the "america's army" video game the DOD uses to train soldiers......

My whole point was that the train of thought that says "my kids will never watch tv or play video games" is almost as bad as dumping the rugrats in front of the boob tube to be taught by purple dinosaurs and Dr. Phil....MODERATION.....

"I'd rather have that kid on my team than one who can defend his country's honor in a darkened room with a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of Pepsi in his lap. "

I agree, but if I were the Army Ranger in Afghanistan, or the Marine scout/sniper hiding somewhere in Al-Anbar, or the future Navy SEAL in Bandar Abbas...I sure as heck want that video game playing communications specialist on the satphone or the video game playing artilleryman backing me up or the video game playing pilot, flying the Warthog.......

How many Navy sonarman played Silent Hunter or i688? How many aviators played Falcon, IL-10, or F-15 Strike Eagle? (I did and I am now a commercial pilot) How many shooters played Doom? How many....

For every 11B or Marine 8541, there have to be plenty of 25s, 33s, 35s, and 94s to back them up, especiall in NETWORK CENTRIC warfare.....

Having said that, I think Tony Soprano had a good line last week about seeing his son sitting around in his underwear giggling in a chat room like a little girl and it making him want to punch his lights out has much merit....

Tom said...

Just a hunch, but I'm willing to bet that smart kids who are physically fit from playing outside and mentally astute from reading and studying and competing in sports and games will do just fine picking up the advanced technology in today's and tomorrow's military and business world.

Anonymous said...

I agree that kids can turn out fantastic without tv or video games.

I am just saying that kids who do watch tv and play video games can make great warriors too....

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