Something that a lot of game players and developers like to talk about is those semi-rare occasions when a study comes out discussing the benefits of playing games, as opposed to how they are turning people into murderous drones. That kind of recognition of the hobby is nice, I suppose, but we really shouldn’t need that kind of affirmation– I guess it’s mostly just refreshing as counterpoint against the general consensus on our hobby, which is really the same as for most hobbies when you come down to it, as being a vacuous waste of time. In our current culture, anything that doesn’t make money and isn’t on the short-list of Culturally Acceptable Pastimes is considered to be fundamentally masturbatory. At most they are valued as a method of relaxation, with the idea that they can be enriching and educational in their own right rarely even considered: So, sports and music are respectable hobbies, beneficial hobbies, while games and models and the like just pointless enthusiasms.
When we describe behavior, there tends to be two fundamental approaches: The descriptive, which describes what the subjects do, and the normative, which describes what they ought to. If it’s not already obvious, I am firmly ensconced in the descriptive camp, because I prefer pragmatism to judgments. Thus, to me, the question isn’t so much “What hobbies are beneficial?” as “Why do people choose the hobbies they do?”
“What do they get from them?”
People don’t choose their entertainment entanglements at random. Everything they choose to do, they choose to do because it serves some need of theirs. Sometimes, it’s interesting to wonder why certain people gravitate towards the things they do. Sometimes, it’s interesting to think about what facets of who they are emerged from those hobbies, which traits fostered those enthusiasms and which, in turn, were fostered by them.
So. What have I learned from playing video games? What have I learned from making them?
I’ve learned to pay attention. I’ve learned to look where other people are looking and see what they’re seeing, and to try to see under that and see why they’re seeing it. I’ve learned to see the optimal path, to learn quickly what is feasible given a certain amount of resources.
I’ve learned discretion. I’ve learned that victory often lies in knowing when the situation is disadvantageous and immediately backing out and trying another approach. I’ve learned that predictability is dangerous, exploitable and poisonously comfortable.
I’ve learned humility. I’ve learned that victory isn’t always possible, unless one knows when and how to redefine victory and declare the new mission a success. I’ve learned how fortunate I am to be in a position where my ambitions are even feasible, even if I should never live up to them.
Even if games lie to us about the nature of solutions, they show us those solutions exist, though we must struggle to find them.
Even if games lie to us about the nature of choice, they show us we have power for change, internal and external.
Even if games lie to us about the nature of death, of life, of war, of hate, of love, of friendship, of humanity, of sex, they show us we exist and that we touch the world simply by existing.
It’s too much to ask to be taught everything. So, it all comes down to which lessons you find compelling, doesn’t it?