The Conversation

The positive value of video games

In response to Guilty of Video Game Sin:

And don't forget, Sonnie, you can use "Bioshock" to teach kids about Objectivism! [ducks under table to avoid fruit thrown by angry Objectivists,]

To some extent, I've always been a bit reluctant to get drawn into the discussion of videogaming's purported positive qualities because (a) one should not have to defensively justify enjoyable entertainments and free speech against prosecution by citing their merits, and (b) I wouldn't want to oversell those benefits.  For years we've seen studies that showed advantages to reaction time, hand-eye co-ordination, and problem-solving skills from games, leading to the big "edu-tainment" craze from the Silver Age of personal computing.  Educational games are still with us, but it's not really a craze any more, it's just a sort of quietly accepted wisdom that building a videogame environment around anything educational will entice kids (and some adults) to partake of it.

Before the anti-videogame witch hunt, there was the anti-role playing game witch hunt.  I can remember, as a high-school student, pointing out to a concerned mother that her son, previously indifferent to reading, was now a voracious consumer of books based upon his exposure to good old Dungeons and Dragons.  (And soon enough, he was moving from Conan to "Lord of the Rings" to "The Once and Future King" to "Ivanhoe.")  

There are advantages to be found in almost every hobby, and as you noted, even these putatively soul-destroying violent games can teach numerous virtues, or even prompt interest in historical events.  It all boils down to how the tools of passionate storytelling are used, and the responsibility of parents to monitor the leisure activities of their children.  I'd be happy to advise the mother of a 10-year-old on what edgy videogames she should probably avoid.  I'm equally determined to tell government censors to get bent.


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