Video games get the shaft.
Of all the ways one can spend their free time, video games seem to rank the lowest of social acceptance. Think about it.
During football season, it’s common knowledge that many husbands will spend their entire Sunday watching their favorite NFL teams, not to mention that they spent Saturday watching their favorite college teams. March Madness occupies millions’ thoughts and time while they watch their bracket get dismembered. We all can relate when somebody comes in the office, bleary eyed because they stayed up all night long finishing a gripping novel. Nobody has any qualms about asserting their unavailability on a particular night of the week when their must-see show airs. Even playing board games is considered a great, wholesome family activity.
So why do I feel like an embarrassed 12 year old when it comes out that I spent my Friday night playing video games?
Just last night at youth group, a student shared that he had too much free time on his hands and he was playing video games too much. He said that he sometimes felt like a day was wasted if he played video games.
I can relate with this student. I feel bad if I stay up until 3am playing Deus Ex, but I feel invigorated if I stay up until 3am writing. In my head, I make various comparisons to justify how I feel. I’d like to offer a few common arguments I hear or that I’ve made about why video games are bad, and offer some counterpoints.
1. Video games are passive. I’ve often heard that video games aren’t worthwhile because you don’t create anything. You only consume media and thereby waste your time in an escape, of sorts. To this I would ask, “How is that any different than watching TV, movies, listening to music, or reading a novel?” All four of these forms of media are consumed and don’t inspire much interaction from the consumer just like video games. In fact, I would go one step further, and argue that video games actually call for more interaction. The experience doesn’t progress unless there is user interaction.
2. Video games don’t inspire creativity. In rebuttal, I often hear that even though music, movies, TV, and novels aren’t interactive, they still inspire creativity. Frequently when reading an inspiring novel, it calls us to consider our own lives in new ways. Or the most moving music gives us spiritual, emotional experiences that other media can’t provide.
I would say that this is all completely true. Even though the consumer isn’t actively doing anything, they are still interacting with the medium as they consume it, and their life is enriched. I would argue that video games are the same way. Similar to a book asking its reader to consider the negative consequences of violence (The Hunger Games), good video games can force players to wrestle with equally difficult concepts.
The original Mass Effect game comes to mind. I recall a scene where the player is placed in a situation where they are forced to decide which companion to sacrifice for the common good. It’s an impossible scenario and one of the most memorable within recent gaming history. It’s a powerful demonstration that sometimes, no matter how much we prepare ourselves, life throws us into impossible situations. Moments like that help me to think creatively just like many over forms of media.
3. Video games aren’t reality. I hear people bash on World of Warcraft and how so many kids spend their days in a virtual world. Yet at the same time, when millions of kids spent their time immersed in the world of Hogwarts and Hermione in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, the media celebrated at the resurrection of young adult literacy. Likewise, I celebrate that so many young readers have been captivated by fiction lately. I’ve written about the powerful effect of good stories here.
The point I’m making is this: Virtual, or fictional worlds can impact us dramatically. We eliminate the efficacy of multiple types of art when we say that since video games aren’t based in reality, they are a waste. By that standard, fiction, television, and movies don’t have the ability to impact us.
Wow. I’m going to have to split this post up. There’s much more I want to say about this in order to flesh out my argument, but I don’t really have space here. I didn’t think I would have this much to say. To quote C3PO in Return of the Jedi, “Why, I never knew I had it in me!”
Let’s dive into some discussion about this. What do you think sets video games apart from other forms of art? Can video games even be considered art, or are they merely ‘entertainment?” Have you ever played a video game that has enriched your life? What stood out about it?