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Rated E for Educational: The Benefits of Video Games

From Pong to recent games such as Modern Warfare and Skyrim, video games have been curing boredom for generations. And according to the popular media, that’s not all that they’ve been doing. They’re also notorious for causing aggression, hindering learning ability, and creating socially awkward individuals. Contrary to popular belief, that’s not all these video games are responsible for. Dr. Mark Griffiths, a Professor in the Psychology Division of Nottingham Trent University said that “most reported effects of videogames – particularly in the popular press – appear to centre upon the alleged negative consequences.” In fact, video games are actually more beneficial than they are given credit for. They have been proven to relieve stress, develop real world skills and abilities through simulations and challenges, and provide quality bonding time with family and friends. I am for encouraging individuals to play video games.

Parents have been wary of allowing their children to play games because of their infamous reputation. Especially the characteristic of developing aggression. However, what they don’t understand is that, spending an hour or two on these games helps dissipate stress and can actually release tension. This is also useful for teenagers and adults alike. Jeffrey Snodgrass, gamer and associate professor of anthropology at Colorado State did research on the popular MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) World of Warcraft. He interviewed a colleague of his, Richard, who is around the age of 40 and working in sales for a technology company and asked how the game is a stress reliever for him. He responded:

The game can definitely be a very therapeutic thing. Believe it or not, when I’m out there killing mobs [game entities controlled by artificial intelligence] and it’s the same stuff over and over and over, my mind will wander. I’m relaxing. The game for some people is a retreat. It’s a place where I can run and hide from real life, and I use it to that extent. I can go run and hide from real life. (qtd. in Snodgrass et al. 26).

Snodgrass conducted another interview with a 22 year-old college student asking the same question. He said, “Sometimes I just log on late at night and go out by myself and listen to the soothing music in the Barrens [a desolate area in World of Warcraft] as I run past some gazelle . . . Maybe it’s the music or the colors. It’s just something out there I like and enjoy.” (qtd. in Snodgrass et al. 26). There are other mechanisms of World of Warcraft, such as raids and dungeons. These require a large amount of team-effort and quite a bit of time to complete. Another interviewee explained to Snodgrass that he found it to be a stress reliever through completing difficult tasks such as raids and dungeons because it can create a great sense of accomplishment. Although it is a fictional achievement it boosts self-esteem and thus can lower stress in some individuals (Snodgrass et al. 29).

Jeffrey Snodgrass thus concluded in his research that “the idea is that if you lose yourself, you escape… it’s deeply relaxing, what some gamers describe as akin to meditation ,or at other times positively challenging and stimulating” (qtd. in Sorensen). This proves that the game World of Warcraft is a stress reliever, but what of other games or other genres? A genre largely accused of causing aggression are shoot-’em-ups such as Halo or Call of Duty. Though they are entirely different genres, these two have two stress relievers in common: mindless killing and the feeling of accomplishment. It’s refreshing to a player to start up story mode (or campaign) on easy difficulty and finish off some brain-dead enemies and let their mind wander. For a challenge, a player could indulge themselves in a harder difficulty and when they finish, they are empowered by that same feeling of accomplishment explained by Snodgrass. As long as games continue to allow the player to do something thoughtlessly, have an environment that players can marvel at, or have difficult tasks that players are willing to accomplish; they can be considered an established stress reliever.

Apart from being a stress reliever, games deliver in the educational department as well. Dr. Mark Griffiths, wrote about the different skills that can be developed through video games. Language skills are demonstrated through problem-solving, such as “discussing and sharing, following directions (understanding prepositions etc.), giving directions, [and] answering questions,” while math skills are taught through score counters and handling money within games, and reading/vocabulary skills are developed through reading dialogue and menus (Griffiths). However, video games go much farther than teaching just Math and English, they can bring about and enhance skills that can be used in the future. For instance, Video games can assist children in setting goals” and “equip children with state-of-the art technology” (Griffiths). It is apparent that these educational benefits are aimed towards children, however, there are hidden abilities that adults can gain from video games as well.

Ray Perez, a program officer at the ONR’s, the Office of Naval Research, warfighter performance department, said, “[The ONR] have discovered that video game players perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than normal people that are non-game players.” (qtd. in Freeman). He also added that “video games can increase. . . short-term memory. . . [and] they allow the player to focus longer and [expand] the player’s field of vision compared to people who don’t play video games.” (qtd. in Freeman). Both sets of abilities could help aging individuals whose perceptual, cognitive, and memorization abilities are known to deteriorate as time progresses. Expanding a person’s field of view can be beneficial to anyone as it helps to keep people aware of their surroundings, whether they are driving, watching their children, or on a stroll. Management is a skill that has also become quite common in video games. Sending troops into battle or giving orders to other players is sometimes crucial to succeeding.

Again, World of Warcraft has exemplified the responsibilities that a manager must fulfill. In the article, “You Play World of Warcraft? You’re Hired!” John Brown and Douglas Thomas wrote about Stephen Gillet, who was accepted for a job at Yahoo! as a senior manager in engineering for his “decisive edge.” Brown is director emeritus of Xerox PARC and Douglas Thomas teaches at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and edits Games & Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media. Gillet had an impressive resume, however his decision making and managerial experience came from being one of the top guild masters in World of Warcraft. To run a large [guild], a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting new members; creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudicating disputes. Guilds routinely splinter over petty squabbles and other basic failures of management; the master must resolve them without losing valuable members, who can easily quit and join a rival guild. Never mind the virtual surroundings; these conditions provide real-world training a manager can apply directly in the workplace (Brown and Thomas). Providing education for children, abilities, and real life lessons through video games is hardly something that should be overlooked as it has shown to be a reliable source.

Video games, can also be a source of bonding and socializing between friends and family. Jane McGonigal, the director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future, writes, “Studies show that we like and trust someone better after we play a game with them . . . and we’re more likely to help someone in real life after we’ve helped them in an online game. . . They’re a fast and reliable way to strengthen our connection with people we care about” (McGonigal). When a parent and child play a game together it can shorten the age gap that wouldn’t allow them to see eye-to-eye and thus bring the two together. I have had experience with this. Video games are a large part of my immediate family. My father has played video games with me and my sister ever since we were about six years old. As of today, I am eighteen and she is ten and we continue to play them together.

Through video games, we always have something to talk about: new technology my dad has discovered, my future dream career to be a game designer, and my sister’s accomplishments in a recent game. Not only that, but because of video games, we spend a lot of time with each other and it has brought us closer. I believe that we are a very caring and loving family because of it. One of our favorites for a while was the Rock Band series. In these games, you would begin by making a band, either with friends, family, or both. I’ve played this game with my friends who wouldn’t dare pick up a controller and it’s a great way to introduce people to each other at parties and get-togethers. In the article Parent-Child Bonding, G. Christopher Williams shares his experiences with his children and videogames. He says that “games where you form a band are inherently co-operative, it seems a [that it is] a genre well suited for at least creating bonds with folks standing right next to you” (Williams). There are other games, that I have found that worked well to bring us together too. Almost any team or puzzle game would get us interacting with each other. “Chattering about strategy . . . seems to me to be one of the central tenets of a series that is seemingly very much oriented towards allowing some good co-op fun between Gen X and GenY relations” (Williams). Puzzle games that are very difficult could bring people together. If one person doesn’t know what to do, perhaps the other would.

Although a single player game, Portal is a great example of this. Portal is a puzzle game that requires the player to place portals to reach the exit. I played this game in front of my sister and she really enjoyed watching me play and giving me advice. It wasn’t always the correct advice, but she felt like she was contributing. “You may be surprised at what simple things like sharing strategy, failure, and accomplishment in a silly little video game can do. It is better than mere play; it is gaming, and it’s the sort of thing that parents and kids should do” (Williams). These attributes don’t only work within the family and can actually attract more gamer friends. As Mark Griffiths wrote, “Videogames attract participation by individuals across many demographic boundaries. . . they [provide] an interest that [is] popular with other children [that] makes talking and playing together so much easier. At school there are always other children who share a passion for video game play.” I believe videogames have enriched my social life, in fact relationships between my family members and friends have strengthened because of the communication that has passed through all of us because of video games, whether it be words of rage, encouragement, praise, or thanks.

It is unfortunate that all the research, facts, and examples of how video games have benefited lives have been buried by the press. However, the negativeness of video games could be true if video games are not taken into moderation, as anything should be. But when used correctly, they can be a powerful tool that can reduce miraculous amounts of stress, teach skills and abilities through entertainment, and bring together family and friends. I believe that video games are much more beneficial than they are harmful and should be introduced to non-gamers out there.

Works Cited

Snodgrass, Jeffrey, et al. “Magical Flight and Monstrous Stress: Technologies of Absorption and Mental Wellness in Azeroth.” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 35.1 (2011): 26-62. Print.

Williams, G. Christopher. “Parent-Child Bonding: Video Games that Bridge the Generation Gap.”PopMatters webpage. PopMatters. 6 November 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2011.

Griffiths, Mark. “The Educational Benefits of Videogames.” Education and Health 20.3 (2002): 47-50. Print.

Freeman, Bob. “Researchers Examine Video Gaming’s Benefits.” U.S. Department of Defense webpage. U.S. Department of Defense. 25 January 2010. Web. 1 Dec. 2011.

McGonigal, Jane. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 2011. Print.

Brown, John and Douglas Thomas. “You Play World of Warcraft? You’re Hired!.” Wired. Wired Magazine. April 2006. Web. 1 Dec. 2011.

Sorenson, Kimberly. “Colorado State University Study Examines Potential Positive Effects of Video Games.” Colorado State University webpage. Colorado State University. 4 April 2011. Web. 1 Dec. 2011.