Benefits of Gaming

December 12, 2013

Papo & Yo

Gaming gets a pretty bad wrap these days. Video games mostly. You hear lots of reports of how video games are affecting our children with violence, crimes, speed racing, gore, fighting, guns, and war. The list goes on and on. There are entire groups dedicated to banning games that have these types of elements.  In addition to its content, video games are being blamed for obesity, inactivity in our children, not doing well in school, and even ADHD.

Granted I am quite sure there are those out there who are influenced in these ways. However, I see a much larger benefit to games that isn’t touched on nearly as much as it should be.

So, what DO video games teach children these days?

A lot of games have elements of problem solving: A puzzle or a quest that requires them to think about the solution and then to apply it in a safe environment. Granted these problems are a little grandiose at times but the element of discovery and application are still there.

How does this translate into real life? How do we avoid the sometimes harsh solutions provided in video games?

Let’s say your child is getting bullied on the way home from school. Most children are ashamed that this happens to them and most parents never find out. Yet, in a lot of games aimed at school age kids, deal with the subject of bullies. The response is often to get help to stand up to the problem.

Now I am sure you are imaging all the video games where the hero is vanquishing the enemy in a fiery blaze. We really need to give our children more credit and if they really wanting to set fire to other people, we really need to look at how we are raising them.

Granted this is one of the more extreme things gaming teaches but the element of standing up for yourself and finding people, who care about you to help fix the problem, is there. It teaches that type of behavior towards them, is not right.

One of my favorite things video game teaches is effort and reward. A lot of games come with questing systems. You do a task, you get a reward. Often that task is just advancing you to be stronger, more powerful and more aware. We don’t offer this kind of teaching as much in real life. Sure we send our children to school to get good grades and pass tests. These days, that’s all they are doing, preparing to pass tests. Children doing chores at home isn’t as common. There is little reward to offer them as we don’t give value to the accomplishment itself anymore.

Working on a character instills a sense of pride and accomplishment in what could be a very bleak day for someone. We find children are living their lives more virtually these days. Honestly, what do we really offer them outside of that? Our playgrounds are diminished, recreational activities are disappearing and most things you could do outside the home are often outside of a family budget.

Yet video games can offer an environment in which to grow this sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Seems silly that you would do it through a video game, but how is it so different from anything else?

Granted some video games are extremely violent. However, if we approach it with the wherewithal in mind we can still enjoy and see benefit from it. You are given an environment in which to explore darker natures that are often left up only to imagination and curiosity. To be honest, THAT seems more dangerous!

Video games offer an environment that entrances our imagination and prompts us to see beyond our reality. In turn this opens our minds to possibilities we may have never even thought of. Some of the stories in video games are well done and have deep lessons. They depict a life, imagined or not, a life that we can live for just a moment. In living anyone else’s life but our own, we learn. We can learn empathy, compassion, hardship, anything. We just have to be aware of it. We can give value to the experiences even though they are virtual, in our mind we still have the opportunity to experience the emotional connection to what we are learning, what we are seeing.

Our imagination allows us to see outside the box, to think ideas beyond our known reality. Why on earth would we not foster it?

There is something about being taken out of your world if just for a moment, a sense of coping. Sometimes our own realities can be too much for us. Sometimes we need to find a world of fantasy, imagination and wonder in order for us to regain ourselves to better face the world we live in.

Video gaming offers an opportunity to step into another world, to be another person if just for a moment to regain ourselves and to remove all the thoughts so we can then think about them more systematically and approach our issues with a clearer head.

Of course, gaming is fun!  You can play by yourself, with friends or strangers. They can make you laugh, cry, and smile with delight. They can make mad! In the end you enjoy the story. You enjoy the moment and have fun.

Don’t get me wrong, while gaming can grant every opportunity and benefit, it can also be abused. It is up to us to decide how we use it. I know every game out there is not a gem, nor is it directed with the thought and care as others. Why not find the games that give these qualities and opportunities to grow to our youth and even to us? Why not play the games too? There is great benefit not for just us, but for those we play with; especially if they are our children.

Most gamers would agree there is a great benefit in playing, you just have to know how to use the tools you’re given.

My brother and I have been playing video games since we could hold a controller. I think we turned out pretty much okay. In fact, video gaming saved my life. Growing up we’ve always had video games in the house; everything from a Coleco, Turbo Graphics 16 to the entire Nintendo series and even Xbox. Even my mom played video games! (Actually, she still does!)

Some beautiful games I would recommend:
Papo & Yo – A story of a boy who struggles with memories of an abusive father.
Gone Home – A mysterious unraveling of what happened to your sister.
The Cave – A multi-adventure looking at the not so pleasant options life gives us.
Minecraft – Provides a creative and adventurous environment in which to build with your imagination.
DefenseGrid – Tower defense game using your ability to manage resources and time.