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Now that all the madness of the holidays is over, you might find yourself looking at the stack of new games your kids have been playing non-stop and wondering exactly why they love them so much. If you are one of those adults who have branded video games as ‘time-wasting’ or ‘just for kids’ then this post is for you.
While I know I’m not going to convince the stalwart anti-gamers amongst you that video games are a valuable source of entertainment or that they can improve your life, for some of you parents out there with an open mind or who want to understand their kids a bit better…maybe I can encourage you to have a go and see what they are all about. With that intention in mind, here’s my list of 9 reasons adults (and parents in particular) should give gaming a go.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
- Games offer Economy in Entertainment:
Let’s be conservative and say that, on average, an adult cinema ticket costs £11. (We’re not going to take into account how much popcorn and a drink will cost you on top of that, as we’re only talking about the economy of entertainment here.) For your money, you’ll get between 90 and 150 minutes of entertainment depending on the film you’re seeing. However, depending on the game you play, you can get up to 200 hours of entertainment from something like Fallout4 or Witcher 3 (I’ve seen people who have completed these games in about 45 hours, but that’s still a huge jump from one and a half), both of which currently cost less than £30 on Amazon – that’s about twelve times more economical than going to the movies!
And that’s just in one comprehensive play through. With sweeping RPG’s like those, you can restart and play in a totally different style; which results in a totally different game experience. In Fallout4 for example, the difference between building a hench, brutal, melee-based character is a wildly different experience to maxing out your charisma and luck instead and just blagging your way through the wasteland with charm and a chuckle, allowing your allies to do the dirty work. You could also up your perception and agility for another play-style and make it a stealth game instead – we’ve just tripled the amount of bang for your buck right there. While the missions and puzzles remain the same, the way you interact with the world requires you to take a different approach to solving them. In the best RPG’s, your early interactions with the world will alter the way you can interact with it later, as well as the context you find yourself in when approaching the missions again. They may not be at all the same the next time around.
Even online multiplayer games like Overwatch provide hundreds of hours of unique playtime, because when you’re taking on human opponents from around the globe, every single game is different and provides different challenges, obstacles and strategies. You could play Overwatch or Battlefield every day, all day for a year and never play the same battle twice, because your opponents are always different. As you continue to play, you’ll hone your skills and get better and better; allowing you to attempt more complex and difficult styles of play. And with 23 characters currently available in Overwatch, each with different skills, abilities and styles – you should be entertained for months on end.
- Games are active, not passive entertainment:
With movies and books we sit and passively absorb information. While books are slightly better in this regard, as they require you to imagine the story as you read, films are simply there to be absorbed.
Not so with games. Video games require active participation in making the story happen and engage your brain at every step of the process. You are required to make choices and interact with the game to progress the narrative, to overcome the puzzle or beat the level. Even choosing to stand still and do nothing is an active decision in games.
When it comes to simpler mobile games like Candy Crush it is the same; your brain is always searching and looking for solutions to a puzzle, or finding the most efficient way to generate game resources (think Farmville or Fallout Shelter). You are actively involved in the process of the game as it continues, or it won’t. You are in the driving seat, the whole time.
- Games teach ‘21st Century Skills’:
Video Games are essentially just a sequence of problems for you to solve. Whether you’re trying to jump over sawblades and duck under salt rocks in Super Meat Boy, or trying to get that next line cleared in Tetris, you’re engaging in abstraction, critical and creative thinking and iterating solutions until you find a workable answer.
Different styles of game provide different opportunities for brain training as well; some games require you to utilise resources at your disposal to overcome obstacles (RPG’s), some games require repetition, trial and error and tweaking (platformers, puzzle games) while others require teamwork, collaboration and communication to succeed (First-Person Shooters, Real-Time Strategy). Sometimes in RPG games the right answer is that you aren’t ready to tackle this problem yet; so go away and find the resources you need to get past it, then come back and tackle it when you’re up to it.
- Gaming builds reflexes, manual dexterity and spatial/situational awareness:
It isn’t a coincidence that many surgeons are encouraged to play console games to increase their manual dexterity – when you think about it, being able to press a series of buttons and manipulate a controller with precise actions and timing is exactly the kind of training you need to keep your fingers trained and ready to move with pinpoint accuracy in high-stress contexts.
A study undertaken in 2007 at Beth Israel hospital in New York found that laparoscopic surgeons who engaged in more than 3 hours of gameplay a week made 37% fewer surgical errors and completed operations 27% faster than their non-gamer peers. Games have also long been used to train soldiers in situational awareness and snap decision making in a safe context, and this can only become more prevalent and impactful with the advent of Virtual and Augmented Reality technology – real bullets kill, digital bullets teach. Being immersed in a virtual scenario allows soldiers and emergency responders to rethink and examine their decisions repeatedly without the risk to themselves or others that exists in real-world situations. While digital training scenarios will never truly provide the context of a real-world event, the opportunity to practice snap judgement and situational awareness in a safe space is invaluable to the military of the future, as well as you and your family. Which leads us on to the next point quite neatly…
- Games are driving new technology:
It used to be the military that drove a lot of technical advancement in the past, due to their ability to throw massive wads of cash into research. Now it’s games. The gaming industry was worth $91 billion in 2016 according to Breitbart, and a huge chunk of this money goes to researching new interfaces, engines and tech to push the medium forward.
Games are the biggest driving force behind VR and AR right now. Taking a Quantum leap in interactivity with VR is due to the gaming industry and the huge consumer demand for immersive entertainment experiences. While the improvements in VR tech are driven primarily by the gaming industry, the uses and applications of this tech are far reaching and varied.
A year-long study conducted by Duke University discovered huge benefits of virtual reality technology for paraplegics last year: following a 12-month study of eight paraplegic patients, Duke published results that suggest that VR technology can help aid in restoring mobility in patients suffering from a chronic spinal cord injury!
During the experiment, patients wearing VR headsets were required to move through a stadium as a football player. Some were able to regain some brain functions associated with moving their legs. Of the eight patients tested, each regained some control and four were upgraded from full paraplegics to partial paraplegics. Not only that, but trainee surgeons conduct virtual operations on digital patients with no risk of mortality, PTSD sufferers are being provided with immersion therapy to help them overcome their plight and doctors have been using “distraction therapy” through virtual reality to help people handle pain while they undergo treatments such as physical therapy. A 2011 study on military burn victims revealed that SnowWorld -- a VR game that allows users to throw snowballs at penguins while listening to Paul Simon -- has proven more effective than morphine in pain management.
Not only are games driving the development of Virtual and Augmented Reality, but they are also now being used as some of the most comprehensive test beds for Artificial Intelligence. StarCraft is being used to train Google’s DeepMind AI; developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be told how. Games are the perfect environment in which to do this, allowing us to develop and test smarter, more flexible AI algorithms quickly and efficiently, and also providing instant feedback on how the AI is progressing through scoreboards. Our friends at Microsoft Research Cambridge are even using Minecraft to teach bots how to achieve complex tasks like crafting – using simple tools and resources to build complex things like a table or a sword – and to learn how to get around on their own without falling down a hill or into a lava pit. They also can learn to build with blocks, navigate mazes and do any number of other tasks that mimic the types of things we might want AI to one day do in real life.
- Video Games are the highest and most complex art form available to humans to date:
Video games are complex melange of multiple media formats and types. ‘Triple A’ (blockbuster) games contain film in the form of cutscenes, complex images and textures to create the settings and backdrops, sweeping and emotive music (often created by orchestras), complex pule and level design intended to influence the player psychologically and emotionally, complex narratives and character development, emotive works and thought provoking subject material. No other medium contains all the art forms humans can create, in one entertaining package.
The cultural relevance of games is also incredibly powerful. In games we ask ourselves a lot of pertinent questions about the human condition; we are asked to make tough choices (Mass Effect 2, anyone? Do you wipe out your enemy race, or just brainwash them all into liking you? Is one better than the other? Do we have the right to make a decision like that for someone else, or should we give them the opportunity to die for their beliefs?), we are asked to interact with others in ethical contexts where there are little to no real consquences (If I steal from my allies, does it matter if they don’t catch me?) and we are often put into situations which boil down to ‘us or them’ and are asked to decide whether violence is actually the right option. More than anything else, games allow us to explore the darker contexts of the human condition without any real consequences or damage to the world at large.
- Games are becoming a primary social forum:
Playing competitive games like Overwatch, League of Legends or Battlefield encourage teamwork as well as healthy competition online, and contains myriad lessons on how to interact with others in competitive arenas.
Many competitive online games require you to interact with others in a safe and mutable space, and we are seeing more and more games which allow for player communication within the gameplay. While this is something that parents should definitely be keeping an eye on (after all, your kid could be playing their game with practically anyone in the world) it also allows for young people to learn social skills and norms and understand that there will always be negative people in the world with whom you should limit your interactions.
From ‘butthurt’ players who cry cheat at every opportunity to those who engage in griefing and trolling, there are a number of negative interactions to navigate in gaming. While savvy parents will use this unfortunate part of the industry as an excellent lesson in resilience and just ‘letting the bull run through’ or laughing it off, others may find it concerning that their child might be on the receiving end of some rough play or verbal attacks. I’d urge you to consider your time in the playground when you were young; unless you were either very lucky or very sheltered, we’ve all had those kids who just want to be mean for the sake of it, and we learned that sometimes people just suck and not to let it get to you. You can always block abusive players from communicating with you and you should always report them – online games contain a ‘report abuse’ system which you should definitely be utilising for the benefit of the entire community. Nobody likes a sore loser, and we shouldn’t have to put up with horrible behaviour like that, online or IRL.
Game provide a context for fun as a group when playing together physically, too. Oftentimes we in the Hacklab HQ lament the death of local multiplayer games (when you’re all sitting physically in the same room.) Some of the best times I’ve had gaming are the ones where you’re all spread around the room playing with each other and the physical closeness and camaraderie you feel when completing a particularly hard scenario is akin to that of a football team in a final or a platoon of soldiers coming through a tough battle. It can’t be faked, and doesn’t really happen when you’re all on headsets, sitting alone in different rooms. For example; Super Meat Boy (I know I mention this one a lot, but it’s simply amazing as an study in design and gameplay mechanics) is solo player, but can be turned into a team game by taking turns. Some of our best nights in involve a case of ale, a controller and the frenetic and cooperative world of Meat Boy. After 500 failures, when someone on your crew finally cracks that insane level, you can’t help but jump out of your seat and cheer their victory.
- Games can teach us about ‘Generation Swipe’:
Playing the games they love with your kids gives you a good insight into the cultural norms they have, which is often something we often don’t get to see. Being with them in the context of something they enjoy, but to which you may be a novice, allows you to see them in their natural context, and often turns the parent-child relationship you have every day on its head.
Playing games with your kids allows you a window into their lives and the things that they talk about, providing some (often lacking) common ground. If you’ve heard the names Soldier:76, Sombra or McCree…your kids are into Overwatch. (You probably already know about netherwrack, Herobrine and the Ender Dragon from Minecraft.)
It allows you into their world as an insider, and often lets you participate where normally you would be excluded. When kids started saying ‘Get wrecked’ for example; as a teacher I found that super annoying. That was… right up until the time I was playing Halo with my much younger cousin and could say it back to him with gusto after I beat him down after about twenty deaths at his hands! (And it didn’t even sound cheesy or forced, like it can when adults attempt to be ‘down with the kids’.) Coming at a game your kid loves with what the Buddha called ‘beginner’s mind’ allows your kids to teach you something, which in turn makes them feel powerful, respected and consequently more connected to you. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and take the back seat in your relationship with your kids from time to time encourages them to take the lead, and can only bring you closer in the long run.
- And finally (possibly most importantly) games are fun:
For some unknown reason, many adult I know put video games at the bottom of their list for entertainment, often citing archaic reasons like 'they're anti-social' or they 'make your eyes square'. Many adults see boardgames as a much better option (don't get me wrong, I still adore a good physically based game - the lads and I engage in a weekly 'Magic Monday' where we all get together for a board/card/tabletop game) but fail to see that video games are really just the same thing with a technological interface rather than a paper or cardboard one. Something about the virtual nature of games makes them seem less impactful, fun or involving than the physical nature of the other types of game available.
Be open minded and allow yourself the opportunity to have a go if you don’t already play video games…who knows, you might find a new passion you can share with your young’uns. There are as many styles of game as there are styles of player, so take a look around and find something that suits you. From The insidious ‘Candy Crush’ sliding puzzle you can play on the train or the toilet…all the way up to complex games like Fallout4; there’s something for everyone. Do you like to solve mysteries? Try a Telltale Game. Enjoy watching explosions, crazy combat action and dramatic cut sequences? Try Battlefield. Rocket League is an excellent little twist of fate that pretty much anyone who plays it, loves immediately. (It's like Wacky Races and FIFA had a baby: cartoonish rocket powered cars playing football…what’s not to like?) At the very worst, you’ll be able to make an educated decision about whether you like them or not, and that’s something in itself.