In defense of video games

Video games can teach important skills and valuable lessons. Photo by Brad Crofford.

By Brad Crofford, Editor-in-chief

Pop quiz: what is a xebec? (And no Googling it!)

If you answered that it is a type of Mediterranean sailing ship, then you are correct!

How did I first learn about xebecs, and why was I able to remember what they are during a trivia game this last week? Because of a video game, specifically Cossacks: European Wars.

Video games are sometimes treated unfairly. They are viewed by some as simply a breeding ground for violence. According to this view, those who play violent video games will sometimes re-enact that violence in the real world.

Video games are also sometimes associated with laziness. This is the image of someone staying home all day playing video games.

While there could be some truth to these, I have seen too many positive effects of video games to paint them so simplistically in such a negative light.

Video games can offer as an exciting look into other cultures. Growing up, my brother and I played a game called “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Over the course of the game, we would answer clues about geography and culture as we pursued the villainous Carmen Sandiego around the world.

Of course, one might protest that video games like the Carmen Sandiego franchise are meant to be educational, and those don’t really count. Other games, however, also have benefits.

Real-time strategy games like Age of Empires can promote an interest in world history through the various civilizations included in the game. For example, someone playing these games might wonder “Who were the Teutonic knights?” or  “What were janissaries?”

Games like Cossacks: European Wars teach useful skills in terms of allocating resources and prioritizing. In this game, one’s resources are continuously depleting, and one must therefore carefully balance gathering and expending resources. (Maybe Congress should play this game…but I digress.)

One might respond that strategy  games might teach useful lessons, but what about games like first-person shooters and role-playing games? Surely they don’t teach useful lessons.

I would argue that they do, or at least, they can.

For example, let us consider the Halo franchise. In it, one plays as a Spartan, an enhanced super soldier who assists humans in combating alien forces. It typically involves a lot of running and gunning as one traverses sci-fi landscapes.

Games like this have redeeming factors as well. As one can play cooperatively with other human players, one can learn to coordinate and communicate under pressure and in the face of opposition.

Finally, video games can allow for the exploration of interesting ethical scenarios.

For example, in BioShock, players have the ability to harvest a resource called ADAM from non-player characters called “Little Sisters.” If the player kills a “Little Sister,” he/she receives a large amount of ADAM; if the player does not kill and instead saves a “Little Sister,” he/she receives a smaller amount of ADAM in the short term.

This presents an interesting moral aspect: is the player willing to do something that is both horrific and avoidable in order to benefit in the short term?

This is similar to questions we must answer in life, whether we consciously ponder them or not, like “How far would I go to get ahead?”

Overall, video games can help teach traditional lessons like geography, stir an interest in history or other cultures, reinforce teamwork and raise interesting ethical questions.

What do you think?