Do video games help or harm us?

President Obama seems to have a pretty low opinion of video games, and has mentioned them three times recently. He said it was important  that children, ‘step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.’ Maybe that’s a fair point, but the US government has never shown any adult understanding of video games, just kneejerk tabloid reactions.

Do games offer anything more than teaching kids violent or unsocial behaviour? I don’t believe they do either, so I asked around to see what other people thought they had learned from games…

Here’s some of what we came up with:

1: A repeated claim is that they have taught people patience! Not everyone plays patiently, but if, for example you ever played something like Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, you’ll know that you really need it if you want to complete some games.

2: Reaction times and hand-eye coordination are obviously necessary for lots of games.

3: Problem analysis & creative thinking. Puzzle, adventure and strategy games often require a lot of thought. Have a go at Portal, and you’ll see how games can really challenge you to think differently.

4: One person cited Finances & resource management, as something they’d learnt from games. I can see how that’s possible, but have to admit they have never had that effect on me…

5: Computer literacy. Essential in today’s world, and I’m sure many people of my generation at least got started with computer skills through games. From messing around with Basic on the Commodore 64, to optimizing PCs in the early 90s, games were and are a motivation for learning about your computer in ways that Microsoft Excel never will be.

6: Driving. People had mixed things to say about driving, that they learnt about driving theory from games and also that games taught them they should never drive! I like driving games, because I could never drive like I do virtually on real roads.

Of course, another matter is whether this should be an issue at all. Paintings, movies and music aren’t required to be useful beyond being art. Video games are perhaps getting closer to being considered works of art, but until that happens the media is likely to continue their focus on worries about their negative effects, while ignoring any positive effects they might have.

Do games teach people anything else useful?

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