OPINION28 May 2010

Video games can save the human race

Here at Voodoo we’re pretty much down with the kids on most things. We hang out at festivals, mooch around Shoreditch and write blogs on the subject. However, up until recently there’s been a bit of a gap in my knowledge: gaming.

Here at Voodoo we’re pretty much down with the kids on most things. We hang out at festivals, mooch around Shoreditch and write blogs on the subject. However, up until recently there’s been a bit of a gap in my knowledge: gaming. Not having dabbled since the simplistic, line-graphic, days of my BBC Micro, my mind was blown after getting my hands on a games console… Fingers and thumbs cramping like an ageing footballer’s legs, I couldn’t believe such transcendence was possible (especially in the guise of a 16th Century Florentine Assassin).

Up until now I’d tended to side with the dominant view, perpetuated by most of the mainstream media, that video games are at best time-eating mind fluff and at worst a threat to the future of mankind. (Who are we to question such moralistically weighty figures as Supernanny?) It’s easy to go along with all this; to get caught up in the fear. Young folk are evolving into a new species akin to the Mighty Boosh’s Hitcher: sleep-deprived Polos for eyes and super-sized thumbs. They’re losing the ability to talk to each other and putting on weight as they favour FIFA over footie in the park, menacing innocent older folk with the violent tricks they’ve perfected in their lawless virtual worlds. Even their teeth are falling out as a result of this terrifying new addiction…

But if you look hard you’ll see more balanced arguments are starting to seep through. Sleep, for instance, is not significantly reduced by playing video games (even ‘violent’ ones) – unless of course poor parental control allows kids to play late into the night. There’s increasing evidence to show that playing video games can make you smarter or (to make me sound smarter), lead to ‘superior cognitive flexibility’. It seems skills acquired in the virtual world can actually have a positive effect on the player’s brain in the ‘real world’. So perhaps we need to think more creatively about how games might effect long lasting and positive changes in young people.

Given the concern surrounding the engagement in education of young (especially male) school students it seems there’s a real opportunity to harness the compelling power of video games. Some games already incorporate an element of stealth learning – gamers pick up gems of knowledge and other skills whilst immersed in the super objectives of the game so maybe its time for progressive educationalists to push things on to the ‘next level’ (see my use of gaming lingo there..?). The canniest creators realise the key to a game’s success is empathy – creating a connection between the player and the character(s) they control as well as between their fellow players. The atmosphere, the concept and the mechanics all work to draw you into another reality – to see through other’s eyes. And one thing I remember from my school GCSE history days is that this empathetic approach to learning is most definitely considered a ‘good thing’. Film, TV and theatre are all felt to be ‘legitimate’ methods of tapping into this – they can be proper ‘Art’ – but there’s a strong argument for the use of video games too, given their potency.

The ‘next big things’ in games – like Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption – point to exhilarating new possibilities in this respect. They play more like DIY cult-TV shows – moody camera angles and establishing shots help to create a world where players immerse themselves in characters to solve mystery and plot developments rather than simply blow or beat things up. (Interestingly, cinema’s quid pro quo – the film spin-offs from games like the Prince of Persia – tend to be less critically acclaimed). OK, so these games are currently more adult in nature but there’s plenty of scope for more educational (without being worthy) variants.

So maybe it’s not such a leap to suggest that video games can make the world a better place – even without an overt educational directive… Empathy increases emotional intelligence and the ability to get along with others. The world of online gaming continues to evolve and thrive as teenagers link up with other like-minded, but culturally diverse, aficionados around the globe. And as they join up for a common purpose (OK so that purpose might occasionally involve slaying all manner of living creatures indiscriminately) at least they’re all fighting for the same thing and no-one actually gets hurt!

(Although do check out the Arj Barker stand up that is a possible counter argument to all this – very amusing).

1 Comment

13 years ago

I look forward to the time when we get over our cultural gaming bias. The readiness of people to escape into virtual reality poses some serious questions about our world. I wrote a post about the possibilities of gaming http://splinternet.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/using-games-for-good-not-just-for-war/ -

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