Can’t say it’s done me much harm

Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock and roll
(Shigeru Miyamoto)

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I think the debate is almost a generation thing and it’s certainly a polarising one. There doesn’t seem a lot of middle ground and you tend to be on onside or another. But maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Computer games, Video games whatever you want to call them seem to bring out some strong opinions in people, even to the extent of why the current generations are as they are.

I’ve played video games since I was a child. I can remember the days when my parents bought me my first computer, a ZX Spectrum (48K with the rubber keys) from there I’ve owned a computer or some sort ever since. I’ve had Spectrums, Amigas, PCs, Nintendos, Xboxs and Playstations. I must admit that I love playing video games and I probably spend upwards of $1000 on games per year.

To me they are as simple as any other form of media. I personally don’t see much difference between watching TV, reading a book, listening to the radio, surfing the web or something as simple as doing a Sudoku puzzle. It’s funny but it  almost seems more acceptable to sit and play with apps on our phone than to fire up the PS4 or Xbox One and play. The only difference I do see with the above is a very important one and that is interaction, the flow in most of the above examples seems to be just one way. You either sit there watching or listening to something. Video games are by their nature interactive.

Video games also educate and that tends to be forgotten. Over the years I’ve learnt so many thing through playing video games that I would not have learnt. I’ve learnt the rules of sports I’ve never watched or never played. It doesn’t just prompt the interest on the screen either. It’s common for me to go away and buy a book or watch a documentary, research on the net or watch the sport itself to understand it much better. Actual examples of this are American Football, Ice Hockey and Basketball. I would not have an interest in any of these sports without my introduction to them via video games. In fact my current project is to learn more about Baseball, a game I’ve actually found quite boring to watch if I happened to flick on ESPN. So I’ve bought myself the latest baseball game. Just today, I’ve learnt that a lot of pitchers do not bat and are replaced by a designated hitter when it’s time to bat. I would never have known this previously if I just sat watching a game.

And it’s not just sports, I’ve boosted my knowledge of history through playing historical games like Civilization and Total War. The games themselves taught me a little but they both gave me a thirst for knowledge to go away and understand the periods of history in which they are set.

A friend recently posed a question on Facebook. He included a screenshot from a game he is currently playing and asked whether a video game can be art? The screenshot is of a beautiful moonlight scene with a silhouette of the character he is playing on a horse. If I saw a painting of this in a gallery I’d like it and I really don’t see the difference. Someone has taken the time to design the visuals within the game and really aren’t these designers as much artists as people painting onto canvas?

Video games let us explore worlds we could never travel, to be people we can never be, to replicate what our heroes do. They open the world up to us, teach us the difference between right and wrong, allow us to be creative without constraints and let us see the world through a different set of eyes. Some people call this escapism and wonder why people pass hours this way but back to my earlier point, how is it different from watching a film? I enjoy getting wrapped up in a great game (many of these games now have bigger budgets than Hollywood movies) and sometimes I just enjoy sitting down and playing to relax.

Life is about balance and people tend to think about the extreme examples of people playing games for 10 hours but I would say that would be the minority of gamers nowadays. I’m happy to just fill 20 minutes of time whilst I enjoy a morning coffee playing a few overs of cricket, a game of basketball or a bit of baseball.

Gamers get a pretty hard wrap I reckon, but I’m happy to count myself amongst their number.

IJS 14/04/2015

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