Objection! Ways to Pwn Video Game Haters Intelligently
Who hasn’t been the target of a dig at gamers? With this extensive list of pro-gaming factoids and arguments, you can leave any anti-gamer speechless.
With the Games for Change conference wrapped up and the Serious Play Conference coming up, August 21st-23rd, there has been a lot of information about the benefits of video games for purposes other than just entertainment. Now I know it may not be as exciting to everyone, but these conferences help promote the serious side of gaming. This is the kind of information that you can share with video game haters when they tell you that you are wasting your time with video games, or that video games are for children. This is what helps build careers in research, development, and design and (cue the theatrics) can change the world! I have complied a list of criticisms of video games that I have heard throughout the years and did the research to provide you with some intelligent, science-y counter arguments.
Aren’t you a little old to be playing video games?
I am sure those of us who are over the age of 18 have heard this one before. The expectation is that once you hit 18 you become a “grown-up”, put away your games, go to college, graduate and get a “real job”. How fun does that sound? I’ll go ahead and answer that with about as much fun as waiting for the newest PS3 update to download. Growing up is over-rated and leads to getting old and no one wants to be old. So if you feel as though video games should not have an age limit, you my friend are not alone. In fact, The Entertainment Software Association states that 49% of gamers fall between the ages of 18-49 with the average gamer age of 34. Now, 18-49 is a pretty large age range that can seem pretty deceiving. By breaking it down this way, The Entertainment Software Association has demonstrated what percentage of gamers are adults as opposed to showing what specific age has the highest number of gamers. This still demonstrates that the majority of individuals who are playing video games are considered adults, even if we may not act like one.
Why would you want to stop playing video games? While playing, video games have been shown to stimulate neural growth and activity (you can read the study here). This growth and activity is what helps keeps your brain working for a longer period of time. Neuroplasticity has been studied tremendously; with findings suggesting that simulation in the form of learning or games triggers this growth. Essentially, your brain goes through an exponential amount of growth when you are younger as new neural pathways are formed. If you do not use these neural pathways as you age, they can be “pruned” and rendered useless. I know that I am oversimplifying this process, but you can read more about this here or here. To simply this even further, if we do not use these areas of our brain, we lose them. To me, this thought is terrifying as I am sure it is to many of your as well. With that being said, if playing games decreases this process of an aging brain it would be silly not to play video games as an adult. So then next time someone criticizes you for being too old to play video games, you can just laugh and picture your happy, healthy, smiling neurons high-fiving each other after your last achievement.
Video games are a waste of time.
If your health and happiness (not to mention neural development as discussed above) are not important to you, then yes, video games are a waste of time. For the happy and healthy individuals who like to look at the brighter side of life, video games are not a waste of time. I want to do a little experiment, just a small thought experiment. Think back to when you were younger, the sun was shinning, the birds were singing and you were with your friends playing your favourite game, it could be tag, soccer, capture the flag, skipping, etc. Think about how happy you were and think about why you were that happy. For most of us, it was the experience of playing that made us happy. This experience is often felt when we play video games as well. Video games make people happy, plain and simple. When we are happy, we have a better chance of being healthier. Positive psychology has demonstrated time and time again, that happier people tend to be healthier than unhappy people. Even more, if you are unhealthy, you have a better chance of increasing your health if you remain happy. To go even further, studies have demonstrated that using avatars, or designing your own character, can actually increase a person’s health. The individual is able to present themselves in a way that is independent of their past experiences, stimulating self-efficacy, happiness and therefore health. You can read more about the science-y stuff here.
Don’t you just go around killing people?
Without getting into Dance Central and Eye Pet, there are many, many games that revolve around themes other than killing people. Strategy games provide gamers with an opportunity to use their critical thinking skills to solve problems. Simulation games require gamers to immerse themselves in a situation in order to be successful. Sports games put the gamer in charge of leading their team to victory. Racing games allow the gamer to feel victorious (or frustrated if you are like me) when they cross (or don’t cross) the finish line. While other genres like RPG, Action/Adventure, Survival, and even FPS require the gamer to eliminate other players or NPCs, it is not the only requirement of the game. In some cases you are required to keep a specific individual alive, which is usually the tougher objective. To say that the only point of a video game is to go around killing people is ignorant and disrespectful to the designers and developers who put countless hours into creating objectives and quests. Even in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, which are categorized as FPS titles and require the player to kill others, the player must solve problems and strategically plan their attack before doing so. Other games that should be considered are those where eliminating targets have huge benefits. For example, Re-Mission is a serious game that has been created for Cancer Patients. In Re-Mission, gamers kill cancer cells to rid the patient of cancer. This game has been praised by its ability to provide Cancer Patients with hope and increase self-efficacy.
It is also important to note that according to the Entertainment Software Association in 2009, action and sports games accounted for 38% of video games sold, Family Entertainment games accounted for 15% of video games sold, while only 12% of games sold were shooters.
Video games cause violence.
We have all read the newspaper titles that seemingly blame every act of violence on video games; as ridiculous as this sounds, this at least stems from some truth (albeit very dramatized). In 1961 and then in 1963, Albert Bandura studied the effects of modelling behaviour in regards to aggression and social behaviour. Bandura (who is Canadian) designed an experiment where he placed children into two groups, one being the “aggressive” group and the other being the “non-aggressive” group. The children who were in the “aggressive” group witnessed an adult violently playing with a Bobo doll, which are creepy as hell, while the children in the “non-aggressive” group witnessed an adult playing with non-violent toys. To summarize, after the groups witnessed the model they were left alone to play with the toys and I am sure your brilliant minds can guess what happened next. The “aggressive” group attacked poor, creepy Mr. Bobo while the “non-aggressive” group angelically played with kittens and rainbows. You can read up about the Bobo Doll Experiment here. This type of behaviour has been demonstrated throughout multiple studies, however there are some limitations that should prevent individuals from blaming video games for every act of violence that occurs.
Firstly, if we are to assume that watching violence creates violence, then this is not limited to video games; teenagers who sneak into R-rated movies would be equally, if not more, susceptible to violence. If you are to compare the two mediums of film/TV and videogames, the former tends to provide more realistic images, which would be transferable to the real world. Video games are disconnected to the real world as the animation restricts realism compared to film or other media. That being said, it is important to have an understanding of what violence actually is, which is why we have ratings. Ratings are present to prevent this type of behaviour from happening as it limits violent content to those who understand the difference between what is on screen and what occurs in real life. It is up to parents to enforce these ratings and monitor what their children are watching/playing.
Another thing that we can look at is the fact that modelling behaviour does not mean a behaviour change, or learning. If playing violent video games makes someone violent, then after watching Firefly, Serenity, and Star Wars multiple times, I should be an incredible fighter pilot! I should also be a trained marksmen, survival expert, computer whiz, assassin, tomb raider, plumber, Pokémon master, a hedgehog, and the list goes on. In fact, a recent study conducted at the University of Gothenburg suggests that violent video games increases collaboration between players. Players that act aggressively or lose their temper (RAGE!) tend to be less successful than those who collaborate and keep calm. Now if only Xbox Live made this study a required reading for everyone…
Video games make you anti-social.
When non-gamers think of the typical gamer, some very stereotypical images come to mind. If you happen to be a basement-dwelling neck-beard and are comfortable with that, good for you! If not, those stereotypes can be rather hurtful and inaccurate. To understand this stereotype we need to look at what being social means to different people. Some individuals think being social means talking to the largest number of people all of the time, where others view being social as talking to a few close friends on a regular basis. Who are we to judge what being social means to everyone? Games tend to vary on whether they facilitate social environments, whether the game is single player, multiplayer, massively multiplayer, etc. Although single-player games are thought to be independent, this still allows social relationships to form between gamers. If you think about how many conversations or even friendships can start by discussing a game you have played. Multiplayer and massively multiplayer allow social relationships to start and be maintained by facilitating collaboration and positive social skills. These can even have an influence on relationships that already exist as the Journal of Adolescent Health demonstrated that girls who played video games with their parents had a heightened prevalence of prosocial behaviour and decreased levels of aggression and anti-social behaviour. Those who play MMORPGs can attest to the necessity of having a strong, positive relationship between players. I mean, we’ve all watched The Guild.
Only guys play videogames.
Actually, 60% of gamers are males while 40% of games are females according to The Entertainment Software Association. Comparing those numbers to individuals who play games online (including casual games like Farmville), the number changes to 58% male and 42% female. With numbers so close, it’s amazing why gender is still an issue when it comes to video game stereotypes.
Video games have no educational value.
This one makes me fume. If video games have no educational value, why do organizations like Serious Games Iniative, Games for Change, Serious Games Development and Applications, and Serious Play (to name a few) exist? Why are there countless studies (close to 1 million hits for Serious Games on Google Scholar) on serious games in education? To answer these questions simply, it’s because video games have educational value.
If you aren’t sure what serious games is all about, it is an emerging field in which the entertainment, collaboration, and competitive aspects of videogames are combined with education which forms an engaging application of constructivist learning; this learning provides students with an interactive tool that allows them to apply and further develop their problem solving skills in situations which can be tailored to the real world (Moreno-Ger et al., 2008; Stanley & Mawer, 2008; Telner et al., 2010; Whitton & Hollins, 2008). That was a mouthful, but hopefully describes serious games in their full potential.
Studies (here and here) have shown that engagement can be obtained through serious gaming as gaming fosters a high level of interaction between learners, which promotes positive attitudes towards subject matter, while stimulating learning and increasing persistence in students. Engagement? Definitely something we want in our education systems. Serious games can take advantage of online or virtual communities. As stated above, virtual communities foster social skills, collaboration, and problem solving skills. Virtual communities also allow students to interact in an online environment that often parallels society, you have experienced this playing SecondLife or any simulation game (Sim City, Rollercoster Tycoon, etc. A study conducted by Michigan State University found a relationship between video games and creativity. The more students in the study played video games, the more creative they were. You can read all about the findings here.
Serious games are not only being used in the school system, but this technology has been used to produce realistic simulations that provide educational opportunities for professionals in the health field, military, engineering, etc. At the Games for Change conference, there was much talk about modding titles like Fallout 3 to be used in an educational setting. So please try to tell me that video games have no educational value.
Video games are a waste of money.
To make this section short and sweet, video games are not by any means a waste of money. Video games can be quite expensive, as most new releases have a price tag of approximately $60. Yes, $60 for a video game seems like a lot of money but when we start to break down the cost compared to value, the price tag seems much better. Let’s say that you bought Mass Effect 3 for $59.99(CAN) and put in around 30 hours to beat the game. Without taking into consideration how much money buys happiness or health or anything like that, Mass Effect 3 effectively costs $2 per hour to play. This is not including how much time you will spend during a second or third play-through, or how much time you spend on aspects other than the main mission. The entertainment that you get from playing ME3 is $2/hour. That is a great value! For games like Skyrim, which you can effectively play for countless hours, the value becomes even better. Compare this value to that of a movie, movies are relatively inexpensive at $14.99(CAN) for a 3D movie at the theatre. Let’s say for the sake of math that the movie is 2 hours long, the entertainment cost of a movie works out to be roughly $7.50/hour and you don’t own that movie. Let’s say I wanted to go out for dinner and drinks with friends, I’m looking at approx. $60 for 4 hours which gives me an entertainment cost of $15/hour. While video games may seem expensive, the entertainment cost is quite low; not to mention the benefits that you take from experiencing the game vastly outweigh the costs.
While not everyone will jump on the “video games are incredible” bandwagon just yet, you now have valid, intelligent arguments that you can put in your tool belt for future use. Make sure you wear your Amulet of Dibella just in case!