Saturday, October 2, 2010

Insight - Video Games

On a typical summer week this past summer, I probably played around 30-50 hours of video games a week. On a typical school week, it's usually been 10 or less, which is still a lot more than most others do. My sisters, who spend just as much time watching TV, claim that my video gaming is no more beneficial than Disney Channel/Nickelodeon reruns. Whateva. I can prove them wrong in so many ways.

It's unfortunate that video gamers are looked down upon by most people in our culture. Don't get me wrong, there are those who are undoubtedly far too addicted and are wasting their life away, and there are definitely many games out there that are completely pointless (*cough* everything Wii *cough*), but I feel that the way I view and interact in the gaming world has been incredibly beneficial in my life. Here are a few general reasons:
1. Video games started my fascination for fiction, which has ultimately led me to my current life aspiration: to be a fiction author.
2. My reading/writing skills and range of vocubulary wouldn't be near what they are today without the dialogues and plots of the story-oriented games out there. Barbarian, druid, synagogue, mosque, monastery, paladin, reliquary, arboretum, oracle...I knew these sorts of words when I was around seven years old.
3. I owe some of my math skills to video games. Working with money, controlling vast armies...I understand numbers a little bit better because of it all.
4. This may sound ridiculous, but there are some games out there that are so realistic and have such involving stories that they can honestly teach you a lot about life and morality. Heavy Rain, Syberia, The Longest Journey, Dead Space...these types of games can make you quiver in fear for your character and cry during the sad, or even happy parts. Video games, which can be anywhere from 4-60 hours long, beat movies and books anyday.
5. I've learned how to interact with total strangers quite well through video games. Playing online can be scary, but can also be quite a treat. I remember a time when I was playing an online game on Rainbow Six Vegas 2 with 5 other guys in their 20s who were all from the Netherlands. All five of them were constantly shooting compliments on teamwork back and forth with their Danish accents throughout the 4-hour game session. You just can't find that sort of thing any other way.
6. People often commend me for my sight-reading skills when playing the viola. I tend to think I have Rock Band and Guitar Hero to thank for this. I get the feel for really tricky rhythms quite quickly due to the practice I've had figuring out guitar/drum charts. I'm a bit more musically inclined because of these games.
7. I owe those awesome moments of quick thinking and demonstrations of nifty technical tricks to video games. My fingers and mind have become quite adept, especially when working together and I really feel like I would lose a lot of that proficiency if I stopped playing video games regularly.

Now let's get more specific. Here's a list of some of my favorite games and just a few things I've gained from them.
From World of Warcraft, probably the most criticized video game of all time, I learned how to interact with strangers. I learned how to point out spammers/untrustworthy folks based on just a few exchanged words. I learned how to type fast...extremely fast. I learned how to instantly become friends with a random guy from Michigan (that was one awesome guy...I love you Mebflame!). I learned that bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. I learned that steel is an alloy of iron and coal. I learned how to work auction houses. I learned how to beat an addiction (I'm nearly three years WoWless!)
From Diablo 2, I learned what gem names go with what color gem. I learned what the heck a scimitar, javelin, katar, morningstar, bludgeon, claymore, and other strange weapons are (keep in mind this was at about six years old). I learned that a bazaar isn't something crazy.
From Oblivion, I learned all about herbs and flowers: flax, saffron, and more.
From Titan Quest and Age of Mythology, I learned about Greek, Egyptian, Norse, and Southeast Asian mythologies long before I was taught them in school.
From Civilization IV, I learned about many of the great leaders and cultures in the world throughout history. I understood the Victorian Era and other things before AP Euro. I learned quite a bit about the Zulu, the Mali, and other civilizations you may have never heard of. I've come to admire Genghis Khan, Suleiman the Magnificent, Odu Nobunaga, and other historical figures. I known the names of many of the great cities around the world. I more fully understand how civilizations develop and interact.
From the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series, I learned far more about the world of music than most people I know. I learned the history of The Beatles year by year. I learned the lyrics to songs by NIN, The Who, Rush, System of a Down, and other bands I would have never looked at otherwise.
From PGR3 and Forza Motorsport 3, I've learned about cars. I've learned which are the fastest, which are the most expensive, and which are the best looking.
From The Sims and countless other games, I've learned how to budget. I know when to spend and when to save. I have a good idea how to judge worth vs. price.

This is just scratching the surface. Video games are obviously a huge part of who I am, but know that I'm not the sort that mercilessly kills just for kicks and spends hours and hours trying to break high scores. I'm the sort that respects the work of the artists and writers behind the games. I'm the sort that actually cares for the story and histories behind fictional scenarios and worlds. I'm the type who usually takes an hour before starting the game just to give my character an appearance I can be proud of. I'm the sort that seriously ponders the consequences my in-game choices will have. The only way you can really know what this is like is to give video games a shot. Drop Wii Sports, Mario Kart, and Farmville and pick up something like Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, or Syberia. Only then will you realize how complex and beautiful video games can really be.