Monday, October 15, 2012

What Value Do Games Really Have?

     Growing up, I loved games. (Clearly not much has changed...) But as Meg pointed out in the last post, and it has been drilled into many a teenager that we ought not to put all our time into games. So from the players side, what value do games serve?

     I used the classic "It's improving my hand eye coordination" line on my parents. Not that I think they bought it as learning to play piano or most any other instrument would accomplish the same goal. But what do games do for us? We know that games in one form or another have been played for centuries. Ancient Egyptian wall paintings depict 'playing' some form of strategy game, as well as many games can be traced back many many years. Chess, anyone? So outside teaching some form of battle strategy, why would people feel the need to create some way to play at life? My answer, we need games. Whether it is used as a means of teaching a concept, simulating a medical procedure to increase a surgeons precision and practice, or any other reason including just the desire to relax and escape into another world, games fill a need.

     As much as I'd like to use that excuse to buy the next totally awesome $60 game that hits the shelves, I know that won't fly. Games don't have to be in a digital format in order to provide an anti-stress or to teach a concept. Board games can also provide a sense of escape, but without the digital mask that is so easy to slip behind. In fact, some games that are in production to be video games get a production start as a crude form of board game so that developers can play through the rules and mechanics to see that they will work well, before spending hours and gobs of money to develop in a graphical digital format.

     Video games are perhaps most often played (even unknowingly) as a means of escaping the real world for a time and being someone else. Anyone that has played a game such as Fable, or Star Wars: KOTOR, realize that some of the chosen actions are not the type of person you are in real life, but in the game world you can be just about anyone, with any personality, you want. Ever have a bad day at work and need to spend an hour web-swinging through New York as Spider-Man and beating up thugs? Or maybe life in general is dealing you some heavy stress making you feel less than in control, and you just need to play something to help you feel more in control and less stressed? Games provide us with the ability to play out scenarios and can be a very helpful coping tool.

     Games can also be helpful in real world training. What would you rather do, play through a game based around a disaster and you play the role of an emergency responder...OR sit through a 1-2 hour presentation where information about your role in a disaster is explained without any hands on examples? Yeah, no brainer for me. By playing a game, I'm more likely to retain techniques if the simulated game clearly shows and explains what to do. I've sat through the presentations, and usually just feel tired and retain a fraction of the information because I haven't "experienced" it.

     The bottom line is that there are some good benefits to games. Video and other. We're not encouraging people to just sit inside all day and play games all the time. (Though it is fun now and then) But rather, not to get discouraged with occasional or even regular game playing. Games in moderation can actually be healthy as a means of balancing life.


  1. A very short reply... because I just wrote out a lengthy-ish one that failed to go through... :( lol. anyways main points..

    1-playing allows you to act as someone or in a way that you normally would not consider. Even in the most basic of games... For example there are probably thousands of 'run and jump' style games where the player is compelled to jump from building to building often with someone or something shooting at them. Now I suppose that were I in a situation that required it I would throw myself from a building hoping to survive the landing, but it just doesn't happen in day to day life.

    2- I feel like we as humans need entertainment more than is recognized, especially in our current society where everything is a mile a minute and there is a thousand other things to do that will continue to exponentially pile up and you are constantly behind. Games provide for a relaxing option to escape your life without actually shirking your responsibilities....okay... maybe sometimes.

    And... that's it.

    1. Games do provide a sense of disconnection. An escape to be and do something different, even if it is just flinging little angry birds at round shaped pigs. You're absolutely right, Corby. People crave to entertain themselves and others, even when doing mundane daily tasks.
      Games also provide an opportunity to exercise your mind in finding solutions to in-game problems. While real world challenges need solved too, in a game/simulation environments players can test solutions in reduced time to find possible solutions to real world challenges.