Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Life Lessons in Video Games

This is an essay I wrote for a class...I got an A on it so I figured I'd put it out here on the blogosphere. Enjoy!
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It has been my personal experience that quite a few people have a low opinion of video games. I have heard parents say they contribute to obesity in children and teachers say that they contribute to violence in schools. Many parents I have spoken to have said that they would rather their children not play video games at all. They do not see the value in staring at a screen and pressing buttons. At first glance, it does seem like a rather large waste of time. Sitting in front of the television and pressing buttons is not very engaging to those just sitting and watching the button pusher. Moving a few fingers less than an inch over and over again doesn't burn much in the way of calories. But while the body isn't doing very much, the brain is in full gear, assimilating the information on the screen and turning it into a wealth of useful tools, relevant to life outside of the virtual world.

Regular video game play contributes to a keener sense of hand eye coordination. When I was younger, my coordination was poor. At first, my parents put me through many types of therapy, however my coordination still did not improve. The problem was that I found the exercises boring, so I never did them. Eventually they decided to try a more unconventional approach. They had heard that some games help children with hand eye coordination and decided to get me a Commodore 64 computer and the game Frogger. At first I was terrible at it. I couldn't move the joystick in the proper direction without looking at my hands. I then lost track of what was happening on the screen. Soon my frog was overcome by an angry alligator or a rogue fish. After hours upon hours of game play, I got to the point where I could beat the game on a regular basis. When I later got a Sega Genesis game system, I encountered the entirely new challenge of games that required a controller with more than one button. This type of game requires learning the layout of the controller by touch as well as remembering what button does each action on the screen. Again, I started out horribly. With enough practice, I soon became adept. I even became skillful at the art of button combinations. I no longer needed to look at the controller in order to make the game do what I wanted it to do even as the complexity of the games increased. As I improved, I began to notice a change in my daily life. I didn't drop things nearly as often and my teachers noticed that my handwriting began to improve significantly. I went from being very clumsy to having at least some dexterity. My overall confidence in school increased because I was able to function better. Through my experience I learned that improved hand eye coordination is a skill that benefits from practice. Video games made practicing fun and encouraged me to become more skilled in an area that was frustrating.

Video games improve more than just dexterity. Being able to plan and keep up with situations that change rapidly are lessons that children can be taught at a young age through video games. Games that are more complex than just timing jumps and attacks allow for practicing strategy and managing resources in a variety of situations. Some games, such as first person perspective shooters, require players to make decisions quickly. Players have to figure out where to hide and where the enemy is while conserving ammunition and other game resources. Each game has its own secrets and pitfalls. Through trial and error, players begin to learn how to size up all types of situations. They can think about developing a plan b, a plan c and even a plan d at times. Games that pit human players against each other add an additional element of unpredictability. In the real world, people face decisions every day. As people age, the ability to make a decision quickly tends to diminish. Some studies suggest that decision making skills are improved and retained better through practice. Video games provide this practice in a relaxed and fun setting.

The ability to learn and adapt from making a mistake is a skill everyone will need eventually. It has been said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. In order not to repeat a mistake, people have to do things differently when a similar situation presents itself. When players repeat a level in some video games, the level doesn't change. Through simple repetition, players will eventually figure out the solution. Young children benefit from this type of learning because it is a gentile introduction to the idea of not repeating bad decisions. The consequences of losing in a video game do not involve the possibility of bodily injury. Video games are not a substitute for real life experience but the lessons learned build a good foundation for children. Through experiences with video games, children can learn how to adapt from mistakes in a safe environment. The only consequence of making a mistake in a video game is that you have to do something over. At the same time, players learn how to change course and not make the same mistake twice. By learning adaptability early in life, children can be better equipped to dealing with mistakes as adults.

To be good at video games, players have to learn how to lose with grace and dignity. One lesson learned through years of playing online games in particular is that there is always someone better. In any given moment, the champion can turn into the loser and the loser can be on top of the world. Learning to be calm about losing and learning from the loss as opposed to flying into a fit of hysterical rage builds a sense of good sportsmanship that applies to a wide variety of non-virtual situations. Video games can sometimes encourage very unsportsmanlike behavior, however. One example that comes to mind is a case of game rage caught on camera. In this video, an adolescent was playing the online multiplayer game World of Warcraft. During the course of the game, another player decided to kill him at random. Rather than changing servers or just turning the game off, the player proceeded to scream profanities at his computer. The entire tirade was caught on a hidden camera placed in the room by his brother. This unfortunate overreaction was then uploaded to the internet where several thousands of people watched this young man look like a fool. The video game provided a situation where the young man in question could have made a positive choice in his reaction if he experience was supplemented by parental guidance. The parent in the video did not seem offer any positive guidance. In fact, she seemed more concerned with telling her child to “Shut up” and quit disturbing her. While playing games, children need to be monitored by their parents to assist them in learning the skills to deal with losses in an appropriate way. The video game may present a situation where players lose, but they wont tell the player how to react.

Being part of a team is sometimes essential to the success of an endeavor. Video games teach players of various backgrounds to come together for the common goal of winning. Many games present situations where it is impossible to win by yourself. By combining resources and different skill sets, players learn how to develop strategies by coming to a consensus. Some games involve quickly working together and some games can have players talking together about a strategy for days or even months. Groups of players can be from a few members of a squad to a giant battle consisting of over one hundred players per team. A person who plays online games also runs into people of many different beliefs and cultures. Despite these differences, and sometimes because of them, players learn how to win together.

The thrill of winning is motivation for children to learn skills and concepts they wouldn't explore on their own until much later in life such as improving hand eye coordination and learning how to make decisions quickly. They can practice the concepts they learn in an environment that is safer than most. Children benefit from the lessons that video games teach. They gain confidence in the face of unpredictability, faith in the face of defeat and the ability to work with a team. They learn how to plan ahead and how to formulate strategy. They learn concepts about economy and managing resources. They even learn better motor control. All of these lessons are impact children in a much more positive way if they are supplemented by parental guidance. Video games do not teach by themselves and video games are not always a positive influence. Video games can also encourage inactivity and anti social behavior. With proper guidance and someone to tell them when to turn the game off, video games can be a useful tool in teaching children how to deal with life.

Through playing video games, I have been shot a million times, fallen into just as many holes and have been eaten by countless extra terrestrials and zombies. Through all this, I have learned how to adapt, how to lose gracefully, and how to make friends with people of differing beliefs and I had a lot of fun doing it. The lessons learned weren't lost to boredom or the severity of the situation. Every video game has its own lesson to teach, even if it is just simply that your princess is always in another castle.

No comments:

Post a Comment