Full disclosure: With the exception of an odd Wii game here or there – I may or may not have been temporarily obsessed with Just Dance – I am most definitely not a gamer. While I’d never considered video games to be something to look down upon, I admittedly did fall victim to many of the stereotypes surrounding the gaming community; you know, that video games are brain-draining, violent, time-wasters that have no societal value and convert innocent children into killers. Then, I made a friend who is obsessed with video games. And, wanting to keep an open mind, I listened to him describe his gaming endeavors. Much to my surprise, our conversations showed me that there is much more depth and color in the gaming community than I had thought. In actuality, video games encourage analytical thinking, are quality examples of character development, art, and storytelling, facilitate friendships, and empower people to contribute to the unique gaming community in different ways. Here are a few common, debunked myths about gaming that might make you reconsider your opinion of video games:
GAMING PROMOTES VIOLENCE
TW: mentions of gun and physical violence
One of the most common claims about video games is that they incite or are predictors of violence. In early August of 2019, Donald Trump was quoted calling for a reduction or complete removal of video game culture’s “gruesome and grisly” violence and its glorification when addressing the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. He isn’t the only one who believes in this intrinsic correlation between violent games and violent people. And in fact, there is a grain of validity to this notion. According to the National Center for Health Research, the “American Psychological Association (APA) considers violent video games a risk factor for aggression.” And “in 2017, the APA Task Force on Violent Media concluded that violent video game exposure was linked to increased aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, as well as decreased empathy.” However, while this could potentially be true (and experts still disagree on whether or not it is), claims such as this one often cause people to assume that all video games cause violence when, in actuality, they simply don’t. Many games are based on strategy, puzzle-solving, or other non-violent engagements, so lumping all games into the category of “will turn your child into a serial killer” isn’t justified. But even within the realm of more violent games, the claim that violent thoughts and actions will soon ensue doesn’t hold up. Professor and Virginia Tech Research Director James Ivory was quoted by CBS news saying that “when it comes to actual serious criminal violence, there’s virtually no evidence that video games matter.” A more middle-of-the-road, qualified viewpoint is, therefore, likely more reasonable. Ivory explained that he thinks it is okay “morally to have a problem with celebrating violence. It’s even [okay] to say that maybe playing video games a lot does something to you, but it definitely doesn’t make you a mass shooter. Other things affect that.” Associate Professor at the University of Oxford and digital media enthusiast Andrew Przybylski corroborates Ivory’s viewpoint, remarking, “the evidence has become pretty clear that, where there are correlations [between videogames and violence], it’s probably because of a third factor.” That factor could be socioeconomic status, a difficult home life, or even something as simple as gender. It’s also worth mentioning that those inclined to be violent are likely to be attracted to violent video games; in other words, they were predisposed to be violent before ever picking up a console.
VIDEO GAMES ARE MINDLESS
Not being a gamer myself, I was struck by the detailed plans and team communication required by many video games. My friend is a massive fan of the game Rainbow 6, a tactical strategy, first-person shooter game. Listening to him describe the level of effort he and his friends put into each level impressed me – and I’ve never even played the game before. They’d take time between matches to strategize, call out commands during gameplay to direct each other, and utilize gadgets to equip themselves better to attain a victory. There’s also a lot of hand-eye coordination involved in maneuvering your character. Speedy reflexes, quick reaction time, and adaptability are essential because opponents can advance and change strategies quickly. And strategy games require analytical thinking and the organization of complex societies, battle tactics, or chess-esq planning. So, certainly not a mindless endeavor.
VIDEO GAMES ARE NOT ART
Along with the assumption that video games are mindless often comes the belief that video games can’t be considered art. But venture into some of the enchanting worlds created by video game designers or flip through some character drawings. You’ll find that those who take the aforementioned stance are sorely mistaken. Go on Google and pull up some images from Hollow Knight, a game in which players explore the underground ruins of an ancient kingdom, or Dark Souls, a game set in a dark, decrepit medieval kingdom. It should be abundantly clear that this is most definitely an art and that much skill was involved in conceptualizing and rendering these complex, detailed settings and characters with evident personality. And that’s not even considering the ingenuity and skill needed to animate and code the games. Another related stereotype surrounding video games is that they are flat and two-dimensional, lacking substance; something like a nameless horde of zombies chasing after you, and you blindly shoot them in return. But, again, that view of gaming is ignorant of the many worlds, character backstories, and histories created within a myriad of video games. When my friend explained to me that, for example, there are literal books written about the lore and characters of Warhammer, a fantastical, medieval grand strategy game, I was dumbfounded. But it’s true; many games are cluttered with lore and history, documented in in-game clips, companion stories, and YouTube videos. Another excellent example of this, focusing more specifically on the plot, is the game Far Cry 4. This game centers around an Indian-inspired country thrust into a civil war. You, as the player, are tasked with making difficult, ethical decisions regarding how the country should proceed, granting great insight into the sticky situations and moral dilemmas that often accompany revolution. And without the detail of the world-building and background established by the game, this powerful and thought-provoking effect would be lost. Countless other games introduce compelling characters with lengthy backstories that touch gamers’ hearts. Again, the artistry and storytelling involved in the games are evident.
GAMING IS ISOLATING
I think there’s a common misconception that gaming is a solitary pursuit and also one that is two-dimensional, the sole objective of which is to advance to the next level. But, in actuality, the gaming community is what you as a player make it; it can be an extremely tightly-knit one and a group that encourages bonding, connection across space, and selflessness. My friend has played games with people from around the world and made connections he otherwise wouldn’t have. Together, they must solve puzzles, build worlds, and defeat enemies, fostering strong communication skills and teamwork. For example, one time, my friend had been playing a game with players of all ages, which is something to be admired about video games – they don’t discriminate against you based on age, gender, race, or race orientation, and the like. Once they had completed a match, one of the players who happened to be a couple of years younger praised him for his skill and clearly looked up to his game-playing abilities. So, in this instance, you see a sort of mentorship and connection develop out of thin air. And because you’re always going to have a diverse array of players, similar mentorships and bonds can be formed within the gaming community. And just as there is a great diversity of players, there is similarly a great diversity of roles those players fill within video games. I think this may have been the thing that most shocked me as I learned more about gaming; I’d always thought that there was only one role to fill within a game – that of a player. But, it turns out, there’s so much more, including ways to volunteer and give back to the gaming community. My first introduction to this possibility was shown to me by a game called Elite: Dangerous, a spaceship society simulator of sorts. In this game, there’s a player-created group one can enlist in called the Fuel Rats. So, when players are running out of fuel in the game and are about to lose their life – which, in this game, is a significant setback – the Fuel Rats will locate them and refuel them so that they can continue enjoying their gameplay. And they’re choosing to do this over playing the game and advancing themselves. I think this demonstrates the selflessness and sense of community that video games can foster.
So, the next time you envision a video game, I hope you don’t imagine two-dimensional, senseless, overly gory games. Instead, I hope that you visualize creative stories with colorful characters and lengthy lore that have enabled individuals to connect and play together across space.