Thursday, October 4, 2007

Do Video Games Have Value?

Most video games are like junk food: they're nice in moderation, but they have little nutritional value. People like them because they afford an opportunity to experience the fantastic. The player can rule an empire, find treasures in the deep, or soar through outer space. I enjoy video games the way I enjoy a good dessert or even a good novel; they let me reward myself or unwind. Yet I am among many who have spent hours upon hours playing a game, burning up time, that resource that's so necessary to get anything done. Then as soon as I turn off the game, I have nothing important to show for my time and effort.

Why, then, do people put so much time into playing? It's because the video game's fantastic world offers new honors and opportunities step by step: only after reaching a certain level can the player advance to the next. If playing video games is addictive, then achievement is the drug. Unfortunately, this achievement is an illusion. After all, what difference does being a 60th-level paladin make in the real world?

In this same power of addiction, I also see video gaming's redeeming grace. Excelling in video games has something in common with excelling in basketball, piano, or mathematics: all of them take hours of practice. Video gaming offers a "practice for the fun of it" that, with the right game design, can hone real-life skills. Puzzle game enthusiasts learn to analyze in split seconds. Dance Dance Revolution maniacs have a fun way to keep fit. And, once the game is created, an 85-WPM Martial Typist will not only save a computerized world from evil ninja lords; he'll also be well prepared for an office job that will put him through college.

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