Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Video games are good

After watching the latest episode of Extra Credits, I decided to dedicate today's article to claiming that video games are good and explaining why, and what games.

I'm only paraphrasing EC's show, but the only time that the general public (let's say my mother, aunts, uncles, and grandparents) hears about video games is when somebody committed a horrible crime with guns and that the media sheepishly copy one another, blaming video games for it. In fact, when a crime happens and journalists want to put out a paper before their competitors about the criminal, video games are the first information they look for in the criminal's curriculum. If he played video games, then they feel entitled to blame it on video games without establishing any real causality between the pastime and the crime. But nowadays, more than 50% of the total population plays video games (you too, Mom! the Sudoku and the Tanglet games I installed for you make you a VG player too!). So, journalists could equally or actually more reliably, blame crimes on gender. Virginia Tech shooter? Male. Columbine? Males. Norwegian Christian fundamentalist? Male. Aurora shooting? Male. Male, male, male, male, male! And wait till we explore those criminals' eating habits! I bet you that most of them eat meat. Would you really think that non-vegetarianism drives people to murder innocents? I don't think so. But TV being what it is, and newspapers being what they are, the usual nonsense about VG will go on if we don't speak about the good of VG.



Everybody knows Tetris. But what is less known is that Tetris helps after a traumatic experience to prevent long term consequences associated to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because Tetris mobilizes sensory, visual and spatial faculties of the brain, the same ones that traumatic images anchor themselves into, Tetris interferes with the traumatic consequences. Therefore, it could be used with victims of any kind of traumatic situation (fire, robbing, assault, etc.) to alleviate the long-term shock.

Foldit is less known. In this scientific game, you earn points by folding proteins into more stable configurations. Thus, some players have solved some problems that had eluded scientists for years, and opening the door to progress in the fight against AIDS.

Surgeons who play video games have a better eye-hand coordination.

Playing First-Person Shooter games (FPS) also improve vision and spatial perception.

Amblyopia is a health condition also called "lazy-eye", in which the brain favors input from 1 eye over the input from the other eye. if left untreated, this condition leads to the second eye being totally forgotten, leading to the loss of vision from that eye. The current treatment generally consists in covering the good eye with a patch in order to force the usage of the weaker eye. But a recent study found that Tetris (once again) can be a more effective treatment. By using special goggles that allow to see the falling piece from one eye, and the wall of fallen bricks from the other eye, this leads to a coordination of both eyes to form a complete image in the brain. For the record, this is a rather frequent syndrome between 1 and 5 percent of the population, and one of my friends' kid suffers from amblyopia.

"Any kind of game with some text" also helped me learning English when I was a teenager. Back then, few games were translated in French (which is my native language) so I always kept a bilingual dictionary at hand and the exposure to English text certainly contributed to my learning of the language I'm now using to write this article.

MMO's (massively multiplayer online games) lead to theorycrafting, which leads to mathematics and statistics.

Minecraft develops creativity... though I admit, this is a personal, opinionated statement without scientific basis.

Gamification has also been used for a variety of purposes including learning. The Khan Academy is an online course of almost every subject that a child will encounter at school until university. And the method of teaching is akin to a video game. Gamification is also used as a narrative context for teaching programming languages like Python on checkio.org.

Many video games also offer exercises that maintain some brain functions as we grow older.

Conclusion:

It would certainly be dishonest to claim that all video games are good. But if you think for a second, it is the same sort of claim that lazy journalists offer to their audience after each tragedy, by claiming without any sort of evidence that video games are the cause of violent crimes. So, the current state of affairs in the media, the one that policymakers are exposed to, is a dishonest attack on video games and their players. As I have shown, video games can be good beyond the sole entertainment they provide. Hopefully, this article will contribute to opening the horizons by providing examples.


Update:

A tragic event happened recently in France, a fight involving left-wing extremists and right-wing extremists, resulting in the death of a young man. A member of the French Parliament mentioned violent video games as being a cause of children growing into violent young adults. No evidence, no demonstration, of course. Let's just throw anything and see what sticks! I condemn this kind of accusation and hopefully we can educate politicians so they stop blaming video games like Rock'n'roll has been blamed for all the evils in the past. We deserve better politicians and that can be done in only one of 2 ways: replacing them or showing them how and why they're wrong.

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