The idea that video games are a direct cause of violence has been in the news a lot recently. Some of this news has come from a certain president who decided to focus on video games as a cause of gun violence, rather than addressing the bigger picture. I don’t feel qualified to write an essay on the realities of this, but what it did remind me of is that no matter what the facts of video game related violence, games are still undoubtedly responsible for many positive things in our lives, and the article that follows is aiming to show just that.
I said in my introduction that I did not feel adequately knowledgeable to write a response to the accusations levelled against video games. However, another reason I’m not doing that here is because other people have already written intelligent, measured pieces on the subject. If you want to read an insightful article on this, please check out this piece written by Daniel from Home Button Gaming. It really tackles the issues very sensibly indeed.
As the title of this article says, I want to provide an antidote to violence and vitriol. This isn’t solely about the recent turmoil, but also about other hateful aspects of gaming from both within the culture itself and from the outside. I’m not dissecting these things here as I don’t like writing about things I don’t fully understand, but instead, I’m trying to point out the array of positives which exist alongside.
You don’t have to look that hard to find proof that a lot of people consider games to be a positive and worthwhile medium. Just look at the work that the charity Special Effect do in helping people with disabilities to be able to access and enjoy video games. They aren’t just doing this for the hell of it, they are, in their own words “levelling the playing field… bringing families and friends together and having a profoundly positive impact on therapy, confidence and rehabilitation”. If you want to know more and are interested in supporting the work of Special Effect, why not go check out the fabulous Later Levels, who are running a 24-hour streaming fest on the 7th-8th April to raise money for the cause!
Another example of the positive potential of gaming, is the use of virtual reality games in physical therapy and rehabilitation for many different medical conditions, from burns to strokes. The idea of putting a burn victim in a VR headset and asking them to play a game set in a freezing cold environment in order to help them handle their pain is an absolutely mind-blowing idea to me! It has even been argued that playing video games could actively help to prevent Alzheimer’s, although don’t quote me on that, I don’t know the science behind the claim.
As well as having uses in rehabilitation & medicine, gaming has also been used in education, whether that be Minecraft being used as a teaching aid in the classroom, or surgeons learning in VR thanks to software developed by games developers. Education isn’t just something that takes place in a classroom either, and inspiring people’s imaginations is a great kind of education in itself. Video games are definitely responsible for inspiring a lot of people’s imaginations – just take a look at this lovely example of imagination at work in a game shop as witnessed and written by The Gaming Diaries.
Apart from these amazing things, games can have positive impacts on the people who play them, whether it is as an everyday pursuit or an occasional hobby.
My first example of this is that games teach us how to work with other people. Co-operative multiplayer gaming, either local or online is a great example of this. Take for example Splatoon, Nintendo’s paint-splattered squid shooter. You compete in teams and there is a great deal of strategy and communication involved (er, well at least if you can get the Nintendo app thing working). You can play with your friends or make new friends who’ll join your team, and by playing you get to know them and learn about their play styles. Obviously online gaming can be a horrible & vitriolic place, but people need to be aware that when reasonable people play together, they can develop their communication skills and learn to work together to overcome difficulties.
Even in single player games though, we are often shown stories of people who have to learn to work alongside others. Perhaps a weird choice, but one example I want to use to illustrate this are the two pairs of characters from Resident Evil: Revelations 2 – Claire and Moira, and Barry and Natalia. Claire has to guide the inexperienced Moira in how to handle herself, and Moira has to address her darkest fears in order to survive. Barry on the other hand has to lead Natalia, a young girl, through all kinds of hell to get to safety (erm, yeah, that’s kind of what happens in the story I guess…?), and she has to learn to trust him and work with him to survive. Now kids, I know you shouldn’t talk to strangers, but when stranded on zombie island you really have to get your head in gear fast and learn who to trust!
Another example which illustrates this point is from Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (*minor spoilers ahead*). There is lots of positive relationship-forming in this game, but I particularly like the relationship between Yashiro and Itsuki, as the former is at first unwilling to work with others, preferring his own methods to achieve his goals, and he is quite rightly viewed with suspicion by the others. Slowly though, a mutual trust is achieved, enabling the team to work together to save the world – something which would not have been possible if they hadn’t learned to work together and trust each other. Yashiro even becomes good friends with Itsuki (and they spend lots of time eating strawberry cheesecake together ♥).
So learning to work with others can lead to friendships and this is exactly where I’m going with my next point. Gaming shows us the importance of the bonds of friendship and family. We can make new friends through gaming (and game-related blogging, just check out this outpouring of blogging friendship that Adventure Rules put together), and share gaming stories and multiplayer goodness with existing friends and family. As with my first point, the bonds of friendship and family are often strong parts of video game stories. However, showing the importance of these bonds does not mean they have to be wholly positive stories. We don’t all get a long with our families, and there is no real reason why we should. I find the family relationships in Final Fantasy XII to be a particularly interesting example (*minor spoilers ahead*). On the one hand we have the strained relationship between Balthier and his father Cid. We see from both sides how the relationship deteriorated, with Cid becoming increasingly obsessed with his work and Balthier wanting a life outside the nobility, away from his father. Suffice to say their relationship was pretty irreparable. On the other hand we have Basch (“I’m captain Basch!”) and his brother Noah, who spent most of their lives estranged having picked opposite sides in a war, only to make peace with each other just too late.
Likewise with friendships it isn’t always plain sailing, and I feel this is really well portrayed in Tales of Vesperia when it looks at the friendship between Yuri Lowell and Flynn Scifo who are best friends torn apart by differing ideals, even though they ultimately have the same goals. Real life is full of positive and negative emotions and relationships and I feel these games do a really important job in highlighting some of the difficulties we can face.
The next thing I’d like to look at is the idea of self-improvement and the old adage that practice makes perfect. As you know if you read my blog regularly, I don’t consider myself to be very good at video games. You might say that I’m putting myself down or exaggerating, but to me, I’m not very good at them. So when I pick up a game and find it difficult, I am often tempted to just hand the controller to my partner and say “hey, you do it”. Sometimes though I put the time in, I learn things, and I overcome difficulty. I’ve spoken before about picking up Devil May Cry for the first time, and how proud I was to finish what is considered to be a difficult game. The fact that I can do this in games means I can do it in other situations too. So if you’re ever doubting yourself, just think about your best gaming achievements and what made them possible, and you’ll know you can take on the task in front of you.
The levelling systems employed in many types of games are an obvious example of games showing you how to better yourself. You (and your character) want and need to gain levels in order to be able to beat the big bad boss thing who is making life hard for others. It isn’t difficult to see how this message can be shown in a positive light – showing that if you work hard you can achieve things that you never thought possible. These things include small, trivial matters like SAVING THE WORLD and DEFEATING EVIL. No matter who you start out as, you can make a difference.
Just simply bettering yourself isn’t the only way that games can help you though. Since I started blogging I’ve read many personal accounts from people whose lives were effected positively by specific games. I think there are probably people who say the same things about films and books, but it is very important that this aspect of gaming is highlighted, not least because unlike reading a book or watching a film, playing a game requires you to actively participate and make decisions. If you don’t know anyone who has felt this way and want a better insight, please go and check out the Well-Red Mage’s community Final Fantasy project The Crystal Compendium, where many of the bloggers tell extremely personal stories about how video games have affected them. Jay Borenstein’s article on the Nerd Speaker blog about Final Fantasy VII and Lightning Ellen’s piece on Final Fantasy XIII are excellent examples of what I’m referring to here.
Finally, and without delving too far into the ‘are video games art?’ discussion, video games highlight and give an outlet to the creative skills of their creators. I will never work in game development. I don’t think the long hours and stress would be a good match for my personality. I’m also not particularly creative, however, there are tons of people who have amazing combinations of creative skills, and video games are a great outlet for honing and displaying these skills, as well as being a way for us to discover new inspiration. Whether that be in the form of a piece of music, a story or a character. For a great example of this type of inspiration, go check out OverThinker Y’s piece on how the music from Final Fantasy X inspired him to take up the Piano. Games can even inspire unlikely talents and hobbies, such as cooking! If you don’t believe me, just check out any post by the talented cook and blogger The Sheikah Plate and you never know, you might just learn a few tricks!
OK, so I hope you are feeling inspired and full of enthusiasm right now! I’d love to hear your comments on how video games have had a positive impact on your life, and if you feel you’ve been directly effected by the goodness of gaming!
Thanks for reading – and remember, the fact that you read this far has had a positive effect on my life!