What Are Video Games Teaching Us?

I was listening to a podcast the other day that spoke about (as an aside) how video games effect daily activity. A number of points became seriously poignant to me when I really started thinking about what they were talking about. I hope to lay out some points of thought here.

Preface

I first need you to understand that I am not a video game sensationalist. I have seen the studies and seen other things shown, but I don’t believe that the violence in video games are destroying our youth. I also don’t believe that the games themselves are responsible for much of the decline in how well are boys interact with life. I do think that they are part of the conversation, but it’s more than that.

I play video games (not nearly as much as I used to), I enjoy them. But the violence that is shown is only emphasizing that which is already inside that brain, and if it wasn’t video games they would be watching violent movies or books/comics/etc. Also, playing the games can be an enjoyable time and an outlet. It can teach strategy and teamwork, but the stuff needs to be approached with limits. Parents should parent, and not allow wholesale play.

With that out of the way, there are a couple of things that video games could easily enforce in a young person’s development that I think we should at least be aware of.

Leveling Up

This one is interesting because it can go both ways, but what I’ve seen is that we all to often take the easier of the two. Most games these days have some empirical ranking system where the capabilities and performance of your character is depended upon the Experience Points (XP) achieved.

Many times, instead of seeing this as the benefit of hard work, we see this as the natural progression of the game play. So in life we think that, “When I turn 18 or 20, I’ll be an adult!”, “If I just stay in this job a few more years, I’ll get my dream job.”, or “If I can just stick it out, everything will be alright”. These are shadows of modern video game-play. Many XP systems just require living safely over time for leveling up, some require exercising mundane tasks, and others are the effect of taking risks.

What’s often ignored is the active engagement of effort needed to hit those goals. Now modern system’s XP can be purchased…allowing for the other adolescent thought of goals can be bought.

The fact is, you don’t become an adult without cultivating life experiences (LX) that lead to adulthood. Making decisions, failing at things, putting your sweat into something…these are the tools that lead to adulthood. The funny thing is, the right video games can also help this. But without disengaging from the screen to put real risk and reward into life, you’ll never gain enough LX to be taken seriously as an adult.

Lack of Consequences

You have an extra life! That is the sentiment of many game-mechanics scenarios of video games. This or the Saved Game are how we counteract consequences of the game play. Two things would happen if real consequences occurred in modern games:

  1. Lack of Play. People would completely stop playing this game because it lacks the escapism attributes that video games provide. (Note: I’m not knocking the need for escape from time to time.)
  2. Character Building. It would greatly improve the character of the person playing because every move would need to be carefully thought out and executed.

What video games can then lead us to have is a reinforcement of “self”. Ignoring the consequences of your actions or finding ways to eliminate the consequences of your actions is a self-centered drive that has led our culture to some of the many problems we see today. More money, the effects on people and nature be damned! All the sex I want, the effects/affects on my life, my wife, women in general, or my family are ignored, or I can just hit the reset button when I get home.

Again, video games don’t cause these things, but they do reinforce them. We can always then take a lesson in observing these traits, finding them in our lives, and taking steps to counter them.

Loss of Focus

Some may disagree that most people they say play these games are inhumanly focused on playing. But the problem is that modern games are a smorgasbord of light, action, events, and the constant push to keep moving.

The attention span needed for these is pretty quick and that’s why people with ADD/ADHD can play these games and perform well at them. It’s not an attention builder. Where are the games where you just have to sit there in the dark for hours waiting for that one moment to jump? They don’t exist because people would find them boring.

I’m not advocating for a change in the system, just again understanding that being able to focus on something (like reading a book, typing this post, studying, preparing something) are important character traits to be build, and they don’t come to everyone easily. Many of us (like myself!) have to work hard to be able to sit down and read a book for hours…I’ve had to train myself. So maybe we should shift some of our time for a better us, right?

Emphasis on the Artificial

Video games are far from the major player in this, but they do emphasize artificial things like relationships. We no longer can spend time in company with other people and feel comfortable, but we can text/email/Facebook/Slack it out with people all the time. Relationships have changed from in-person reality to a filtered persona we can manufacture online.

Real life doesn’t allow for this. At some point you will have to present yourself face-to-face with someone and building those skills now needs to happen.

Conclusion

Remember, I’m not knocking video games as a whole. But we should be aware of the character traits that video games emphasize. We should always be aware of these and be intentional about combating these with counter traits.

Let’s gain some Life eXperience by going hiking, learning to pilot a plane (instead of video game simulations), taking archery lessons, painting, or photography. Do things that build you up.

In those LX activities, take risks. Start conversations with people you normally wouldn’t…be willing to get rejected. Learn from these so when real, truly painful consequences arise, you are ready for them. And try thinking about the other person before doing something for a change…you’ll be surprised on the outcome.

Slow things down with prayer or meditation. Reading a book (and doing it over and over again) to cultivate focus.

Talk to someone. Go to physical group events and put yourself out there. Know you aren’t the only person in the place you are at, find a crew and have some fun. You will be so much the better for it.

Photo by Rohit Choudhari on Unsplash


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