The Intrinsic Value of Video Games

The man standing in front of me is a drug dealer – the lower than scum. My gun is aimed directly on him. I shouldn’t even be thinking twice. If I shoot, I get my son back, but if I don’t, my son is as good as dead.

Tears erupt from us both, and my hands shake in a combination of apprehension and guilt, as if I’ve already made my decision and I just need to will myself to do it. As I summon the courage to carry it out, I take in my surroundings. The pink walls and floor fill me with shame. Two girls share this room. Their photo stares straight into my soul, and I start to second-guess myself.

He’s a father, and all I can see is his humanity. I imagine two young girls returning home to see their daddy sprawled out on the carpet in their bedroom, and I decide I cannot do it. I will not do it. I walk away; tears stream down my face.

None of this is real, but my emotional connection is.

And therein lies the power of video games.

No longer are games about eating ghosts or jumping plumbers. They have transitioned into an art form. I place a lot of value on video games, even if I recognize that they are not for everyone. I believe that there is no purer form of storytelling, but more than that, video games can give players lifelong skills and bring people together.

 

The Art

Video games are so much more than the mindless button mashing of the seventies and eighties. Games like Heavy Rain (excerpt above) are an interactive story. There aren’t any explosions, any fight sequences, but the characters become a part of you. You control them, therefore becoming invested in what happens to them.

Other games explore even stronger subject matter. Gone Home is an interactive game that looks at homosexuality in the mid-90s, and the culture of “it’s only a phase.” Bioshock takes a look at Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and creates a world that encapsulates a society born of those beliefs. Bioshock Infinite shines a spotlight on nationalism, racism, and religious fanaticism. Spec Ops: The Line invokes Heart of Darkness, weaving a complex narrative of war and moral ambiguity.

In video games, rather than read or watch these events unfold, you actively participate in them. You are the young adult returning home. You are the man who sees the results of a city of anarchists. You are the Captain that kills innocent people to protect yourself.

 

Life Skills

Games have had a bad rap for years. So-called experts on psychology have alleged that video games make people violent, but these allegations that have been debunked a number of times. It’s true that games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty are violent, but reports indicate that people who play video games for an hour a day are actually less aggressive than those that don’t. Further to that, it has been shown to help develop important life skills. Studies show that people who play video games have improved skills in decision-making, memory, relationships, teamwork, and multitasking. There are even further studies that show games can help with motor and cognitive function.

Video games like Dark Souls 3 present a world that never changes but becomes exceedingly difficult – to the point that one inconsequential beast can kill you repeatedly. With every failure, you learn something else about it. You pick up its weaknesses. Your spatial awareness increases. You start to use your surroundings to gain an advantage, and after what might be minutes or hours, you have finally defeated him. In that one exercise, you have used problem-solving skills, memory, attention-to-detail, flexibility, and tenacity. The same can be said about cell phone puzzle games Cut the Rope and Angry Birds.

Building Relationships

There’s this common misconception that all gamers are antisocial, live in their parents’ basement, have acne, and are obese, or that video games wreck marriages. But evidence proves that this is not the case. According to Pew Research Center, 65% of teens play with a friend in the room with them and another 27% connect online with their friends. School-aged children that play video games have also been shown to have improved peer relationships, and more than 97% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 are playing games in some format now.

Massively multiplayer online games, such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and Elder Scrolls Online are designed as social games. These games encourage collaboration with friends from all around the world. It is not uncommon to join a group of players who are located in the United States, Canada, Indonesia, United Kingdom, and Australia. Relationships often develop into lifelong friendships within these games. There are even cases of players becoming romantically involved.

In the past two weeks, Pokémon Go has shown some positive results in interactions for many people who suffer from social anxiety and depression. The inclusiveness of the game encourages a healthy outlet for those that normally wouldn’t leave their home. Families are walking and bonding in a way that is unprecedented, and teenagers – that normally sit at home – are walking around in small groups for at least an hour or more.

My decision to not kill the drug dealer is made on a fundamental moral conviction that I am a good person. I choose to save that man’s life, but I have to live with my choice. My son is still kidnapped, and I may have just doomed him.

I turn off the PlayStation. I need a minute to collect my thoughts.

I can’t believe a video game can make me feel this way.

Despite the controversy around gaming, opinions are changing. Its legitimacy as an art form, and its social and cultural significance, cannot be ignored. There is inherent value to an entertainment form that does so much more than that which it was originally created.


 

Last weekend, I spent the better part of it, writing this piece for the Yeah Write Super Challenge. I made it through the Round 2, which meant I had to write a persuasive essay based on a prompt provided. Then I had 48 hours to write it. I had to argue “Is there value in playing video games?” With some amazing assistance from some great betas, I managed to make it to Round 3. This was my submission. Below are the comments left by the amazing judges for this challenge. 🙂

 

What the judges really liked about “The Intrinsic Value of Video Games”:

  • Your supporting evidence is strong and woven in seamlessly with your narrative.
  • Very well organized with supporting references and a nice flow.
  • Your use of links to back up your arguments was effective — not too much and not too little; nice organization of persuasive arguments.

Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • Your essay would benefit by ending on story and omitting the final summary paragraph.
  • The final paragraph should have been moved up a bit to right before the jump back to the writer’s own game.
  • The essay contained errors in punctuation and word choice (i.e., that vs. who), and lacked voice.
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