Ben Plummer Ms. Holmes Honors English 10 Period E May 30, 2006
Video Games: Good for the Mind, Body, and Soul
A common misconception about video games is that they are all violent bloodfests that promote violence and stunt social and cognitive development in the people who play them. Contrary to this widely held belief, video games have numerous cognitive, practical, artistic and personal benefits. First of all, the incidence of violence in video games is grossly overrated. In fact, only 8% of all video games are rated Mature or Adult Only, indicating that only 8% of video games have explicit violent or sexual content (ESRB). Furthermore, scientific studies have shown no causal evidence that links video game violence to real life violence (Feinberg). Researchers are beginning to demonstrate the cognitive benefits of video games, including improvement in pattern recognition, logical thinking, mastery of increasingly difficult content, visual skills, creative problem solving, and social processing. These skills have broad applications in a number of important areas. Virtually all video games teach pattern recognition. For example, players learn to recognize patterns in the movements and attacks of a tough opponent called a “boss”. Often bosses have a certain pattern that must be interpreted in order to reach the next level. If players can read the pattern and exploit it to their advantage, they will succeed in defeating their opponent. Pattern recognition has applications in reality. Patterns form the foundation of all math concepts and are taught beginning in pre-school. In sports, players need to recognize their opponent's pattern in order to devise a winning strategy. In fencing, the fencer must
Plummer, 2 recognize a pattern in the opponent’s movement, in order to score the most touches. Also, it is possible to interpret patterns in people’s personalities, which can help with avoiding disputes. Another cognitive benefit, not widely recognized, is how games teach and encourage logical thinking. Players must think in steps that follow a logical order or sequence. These are the very same skills required to solve a complicated puzzle. In real life, logical thinking contributes to academic success and is necessary to complete certain complex tasks like developing a scientific experiment or solving a complicated math problem (Johnson). Unlike other forms of entertainment, video games rely on something called “regime of competence”. The “regime of competence” is basically a difficulty curve and refers to the increasing cognitive challenges required as you progress through the game to mastery. The regime of competence tests the players as they advance and if the players cannot meet the requirements, the game will not advance. Players must understand and master past content before moving on to new content, all of which requires that the mind of the player is actively engaged. This is very different from movies, which do not test the viewer’s skill or require viewer understanding before moving on. Another cognitive benefit of playing video games is improved social processing skills. To be successful in video games, players are required to keep an internal map and to quickly process what is happening in an environment. While playing a video game, players need to take everything in fast, from how to deal with the hazards of an environment to what kinds of enemies they will encounter. It is very difficult to advance in a video game if one cannot process the context of the game and all that is happening in the environment. In real life, this skill translates to the ability to process other social situations. It is extremely
Plummer, 3 important in everyday social situations to read a new environment and take everything in before moving on so as not to get confused. If someone can process an environment quickly, they will be able to avoid possible social and environmental hazards before they become a problem. Video games teach this processing skill from the minute the game starts up to the end. Processing the environment is very beneficial whether it is in the food court at the Providence Place Mall or in the SKHS cafeteria. A well proven cognitive benefit of video games is the increase in visual and problem solving skills. Gamers score significantly better on quick visual recognition tests than non-gamers. Another study shows that surgeons who use fine instruments perform 37% less errors if they play video games for at least three hours a week (Johnson). Video games promote creative problem solving skills. A successful gamer needs to think creatively and out of the box in order to solve video game related puzzles. In reality, the ability to think creatively improves the chances to solve a range of problems that occur in everyday life from math equations to peer disputes (Johnson). Researchers and psychologists are just beginning to explore the cognitive benefits of video games but the early evidence suggests that, in moderation, the cognitive benefits of playing video games outweigh any potential harmful effects and certainly dispute the stereotype that video games have only a mind numbing effect on players. Contrary to another popular belief, video games can be enjoyed as an art form. Nowhere is this more evident than in video game soundtracks and graphics. Video game soundtracks have come a long way since Mario and Pong. They are not just beeps and synthesizer anymore, but finely composed music often recorded by a full orchestra. Just like in movies, video game soundtracks are used to create a mood or transmit
Plummer, 4 emotions like urgency or sadness and play a vital role in the final creative product (Gutoff). What is more, video games expose players to music from other cultures in games like DDR and “Pump It Up” which expose players to music from Japan, Korea, and many other countries. In addition, games like “Guitar Hero” and “Karaoke Revolution” expose players to guitar and singing fundamentals that can improve musical ability and inspire further musical study. Video game graphics have also evolved since Pac-Man. Playing a modern video game is like jumping into a scene from a movie except the player controls the action. Games like Okami have a distinct graphical style. Evan Shamoon, a writer for PSM magazine says that the art style is meant to, “encourage players to relax and enjoy the scenery” (PSM issue 110). An example is the very beautifully crafted game, Shadow of the Colossus. This game pits a young boy against huge colossi. The colossi convey a sense of magnificence and awe and one could spend hours just exploring the grand scenery (PSM issue 104). The game features 16 beautifully depicted colossi, each one offering a unique challenge to the player who must slay them. The graphics on Shadow of the Colossus are so spectacular that they, alone, could put an end to the debate about whether video games are really art (Eric Bratcher, PSM issue 104). Video game graphics are a form of contemporary art and can be appreciated along with other modern art forms. When someone looks at a painting in an art gallery, it impacts that person in a unique way. Video game art, also, means something different to everyone and exposure can produce emotions and inspire creativity in the viewer just the way a painting does. The practical benefits of video games are many and often ignored by the mainstream. One area of practical use is with the military. “America’s Army” is a game
Plummer, 5 developed by Ubisoft and released in 2002. This game conveys an extremely accurate depiction of the modern Army and is used to train new recruits. The recruits play the game and receive a score based on their performance and the Army uses these scores to match recruits to the duties they are best suited for. All content in the “civilian” version of the game, called “America’s Army; Rise of a Soldier” was approved by the army to assure authenticity and accuracy. It should be noted that although this game accurately depicts the horrors of war, it will not turn the average civilian into a soldier. Just as with movies and novels, it is up to the player to distinguish between fiction and reality. Although the game supplies a very accurate depiction of the army (through the use of graphics and sounds), it is fiction. The player does not really kill people, and the player is not really in the army. If players cannot make the distinction between fiction and reality, they should not be playing any video games (“Americas Army”). Video games also have practical application in education. It has been demonstrated that video games promote various aspects of learning. Children and adults alike learn problem solving, critical thinking, and build vocabulary skills by playing video games. Children are motivated to practice skills in video games because the games are fun to play. As we gain knowledge of the ways video games can be applied to education and how to incorporate into the school environment, children for whom traditional methods have not worked, might be reached. (E., Stephanie). Another practical application of video games, that is just beginning to gain attention is their use in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. ASD is a neurological condition that interferes with understanding social interaction and communicating with other people. Individuals with ASD can understand factual
Plummer, 6 information easily, but they have trouble understanding aspects of social interactions. Autistic children learn best from visual information such as printed materials, movies and computer generated images. Real life social interactions move too fast for autistic children to grasp. For these reasons, video games are an ideal learning tool for children with ASD. The kind of video game that could help autistic children would be a video game where their character would go through a series of everyday social interactions. The player would be able to experience each social interaction from all of the different perspectives of the people involved in the interaction. The game would assign the player a score based on how the player performed in the social interaction. Users would be able to try each level over again until they got a score that they were happy with. A common misconception is that video games cause behavior disorders. In fact, psychologists are finding that certain video games can actually play an important role in the treatment of a wide range of behavior and neurological disorders (Plummer, Kevin). Of all the documented benefits of video games, perhaps the most compelling benefits are on the personal level. Personal benefits of gaming include learning to multitask, a fun way to exercise, social skill development, enforcement of positive values, exposure to literary themes and music, frustration tolerance and stress management. A successful gamer must learn to balance different priorities. In a video game, many tasks are introduced at once. For instance, in a battle, players have to weigh and balance their own health, the health of their teammates, the enemy’s health, how many enemies there are, what strategies to use against the enemies, and much more. In order to be successful in life, one has to juggle and set priorities and learn to multitask, especially in high school. The skills of multitasking required in video games are the same skills needed to
Plummer, 7 be a successful high school student. For example, high school students must juggle studying for final exams, completing final performance assessments for all of their classes, developing their portfolios, involvement in extracurricular activities and family time. Contrary to popular belief, video games teach social skills and positive values like friendship. Games like World of Warcraft, an online role-playing game, teach cooperation, diplomacy, and teamwork by requiring these skills in order to win. Many games can be played with two or four players and require that players interact as they devise strategy and develop characters. Games also enforce the important value of friendship. In the game, “Kingdom Hearts 2” the character, Sora and his best friend Riku are reflecting on their lives, Riku tells Sora, “Well, there is one advantage to being me... Something you could never imitate”. Sora responds with, “Really? What's that?” and Riku answers him with, “Having you for a friend” (Kingdom Hearts 2). Increasingly, video games are exploring literary themes found in classic and modern literature and making them accessible to a population that might not have been exposed to them otherwise. One example is the video games based on the epic novel series, Lord of the Rings, by J.R. Tolkien. Another example is “Kingdom Hearts 2”, which explores the theme of the relationship between light and dark. Sora, the main character says to the villain Xemnas, “There's more to a heart than just anger or hate. It's full of all kinds of feelings”. At the end of the game, when Xemnas asks Sora and his friends why they hate the darkness, King Mickey (Mickey Mouse) responds, “Aw, we don't hate it. It's just kinda...scary. But the world's made of light AND darkness. You can't have one without the other, 'cause darkness is half of everything. Sorta makes ya
Plummer, 8 wonder why we are scared of the dark” (Kingdom Hearts 2). Light and dark/ good and evil are themes explored by many major literary figures. John Steinbeck, for instance, weaves these themes throughout the novel East of Eden. While not exactly a literary theme, the main character of the popular video game, “Devil May Cry” is named Dante and his brother is named Virgil. Some players have reported that making the connection with the video game characters and Dante’s Inferno was the reason they first read the epic poem. Of course, one cannot put video games on a par with the great literature of our day, but it is possible to learn to appreciate the themes found in literature by playing video games. One cannot beat a video game without patience, frustration tolerance and perseverance. Often it takes multiple tries to get past a certain part in a video game. It can be very frustrating if one gets stuck on a specific part for a long time. Players are taught, however that the only way to be successful is to be patient and persevere until the end. These character traits are also related to success in school and career. In addition, video games provide a substance free form of relaxation and stress management. If someone is stressed, all they have to do is boot up a game like “Soul Calibur III” and unleash their stress by going on a quest to destroy an evil sword. If someone wants to mellow out, they can start up a nice slow role playing game and explore the possibilities. What better way to escape form reality than slaying a gigantic colossus in “Shadow of the Colossus”? What’s more, it is a far healthier escape than using alcohol or drugs. The stereotype of the video game playing couch potato ignores the possible physical benefits of playing video games. Not all video games involve sitting in a chair starring at a television screen. Games like “Dance Dance Revolution” (DDR) and “Pump
Plummer, 9 It Up” provide an excellent and fun cardiovascular workout. Both games require stepping on arrows of a dance pad corresponding to arrows that move up the screen. This practice improves rhythm and coordination. A player’s heart rate increases after about 30 minutes to an hour of DDR or “Pump It Up” providing an aerobic workout in a form that will motivate many, otherwise inactive, teens. Video games have received a bad reputation, primarily because the benefits have, up until now, been little understood. The expression, “you can get too much of a good thing” applies to video games as well. Playing video games are only harmful if they begin to interfere with any major aspect of someone’s life, like health, school, job, social, or family. Played in moderation and in combination with a rich and full life of other activities and pursuits, video games can offer extraordinary benefits to the individuals who play them.
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