If there’s ever a medium with a bad reputation, video games are it. They’re accused of containing too much violence, leading to addiction, and keeping kids from going outside. While these are real dangers of video games, it’s hard to make the case that any of those claims do not exist in various other mediums. The existence of those risks alone cannot undermine the medium itself.
So, as a part of my ongoing “Benefits and Dangers” series, I present to you three unique benefits of the video game medium. Maybe now you’ll feel justified buying that Wii (good luck finding one).
Forces the player to actively consider the actions on screen – not simple passive entertainment
It may seem like the average video game player is merely sitting zombie-like in front of their television moving their thumbs, but there is much more happening in the mind of the average video game player than meets the eye. Video games compel the player to take an active role in what is happening on-screen, unlike television and film which often seeks to lull the viewer into a general acceptance of whatever may be paraded in front of them. Video games acknowledge that what is on screen may not be what should be on screen. The player is challenged to do something about it. This challenge results in the average gamer solving math, physics, social and even ethical problems throughout their gaming experience. The best games force the player to ask the question, “Is this a good idea?” or, “What should I do in this situation?” and the best players choose to dwell on these questions.
The opportunity for social interaction
The unexpected success of the Nintendo Wii has demonstrated that video games actually excel at bringing people together. Video games, just like board games and party games, have the potential to bring our guard down. Fun causes people to cast down their inhibitions and embrace one another, and video games are now at a point where they often encourage this sort of reaction.
As a result, video games are just one in an arsenal of ways to get to know fellow believers and nonbelievers in a way that is nonthreatening and welcoming.
Reinforces the concept of delayed gratification
Anyone who’s played a video game has experienced being frustrated while playing. Even the greatest games seem to test our patience in all sorts of seemingly evil ways. Unlike nearly all other mediums, video game designers see it as critical that the player is challenged. In short, we are forced to work for the pay-off. This is the sort of thing that Christians can embrace.
Of course, video games have a long way to go. Because the medium itself is so young (it was literally born around the same time I was born), it is only now finding itself able to claim artistic relevance. However, as more and more seriously artistic games come to fruition, we will find that not only are the existing benefits amplified, but new benefits will arise.
The medium of video games is blowing up right now. Sales are through the roof and developers are making some of the most fascinating and artful games yet. One of the more exciting developments is the rise of the independant video game developer, enabled most notably by online distribution services like XBox Live and WiiWare (coming this May). Christians cannot simply ignore or condemn this phenomenon. Instead, let’s come to terms with its dangers (which I’ll address in our next installment of the series) and embrace its many benefits.