Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Things I Learned from Video Games That My Sister's Kids Didn't

I love video games. I do. Thankfully, I've moved past the point that I waste dozens of hours of week sitting in front of a television or a computer doing something that ultimately results in, well, nothing. But I still love a good video game. Strangely enough (or maybe not), I prefer a strong story to strong gameplay, though I do enjoy a mindless foray into whooping some virtual ass.

That stated, I grew up on the good ol' Atari 2600. Crap graphics combined with a one-button controller never really lent themselves to great gameplay, and the limited RAM and ROM space found on that particular system didn't really lend itself to engaging and encompassing stories. But, whatever.

Fast-forward to the 21st century (actually, the mid-90s), and video games now exhibit mind-blowing imagery and storylines that are so in-depth, they often require multiple run-throughs just to notice or understand all of their nuance. No, I'm not claiming that video games are the next great art form (though I would certainly, unlike Roger Ebert, consider them an art form), I'm merely acknowledging that a shitload of creativity goes into the things.

Still, kids seem to be taking everything for granted these days, and as I'm watching three under-10-year-olds playing a fairly comprehensive game on Nintendo Wii as I write this, it only confirms this notion for me. Video games taught me persistence. I played stupid little 8-bit (or less) games until they were completed. If I couldn't get past a level or an obstacle, I stayed at it until I could figure it out. For me, video games were a primal form (compared to today's games, of course) of problem solving. Movement and timing. But then again, video games were most certainly NOT my childhood's primary form of entertainment. There was television, sure, but it was mostly inanimate toys and books that I had to turn to in order to keep from getting bored.

Today, though... different story.

I'm watching three kids try to beat a level, each getting frustrated beyond belief in turn, and handing the controller off to another kid in angry defeat in order to just pass the level. Their willingness to quit a friggin' video game is, quite simply, amazing to me. What makes it somewhat depressing is that though there are snippets of what is actually a pretty decent story, they don't even give a shit. All they want to see are flashing lights and colors and some "bling bling" that lets them know they've passed the level.

So three strikes for persistence, and three more for following plot.

I also learned how to share with the video games of my generation. There were relatively few simultaneous multiplayer games when I was growing up, and "Player 2" usually went about his or her business while I twiddled my thumbs awaiting my next turn. Not so with today's games. Everything's at the same time, be it on the same team or in versus modes, and the sudden demise of one player typically results in arguments over whether or not to hit the reset button.

On that note, I also learned how to lose with video games. I think we can safely count that lesson out, as evidenced by the almost broken Wii controller now laying on the living room floor and the bratty neighbor kid stewing in the kitchen.

Now, while I don't subscribe to the theory that video games are destroying our children (I blame that on bad parenting, which has pretty much always been the culprit of that particular accusation), I do admit that children learn fewer valuable life lessons from the games and style of gaming in vogue today.

Of course, I'm probably just getting old.


  1. yeah, i learned a lot from video games...

  2. Grumpy old man! Bet those kids are rolling their eyes at you constantly.

  3. Gosh, good points. I have a huge opinion that is way too big for this box so... shut me up.

  4. so true, so very, very true!

  5. I'm not much of a gamer, that's an understatement, I'm crap with a controller on the PS3 but my nephew turns into a zombie or a tanty king when he's playing even if he's the only one and his social skills are zero. Yep, bad parenting and poor supervision. He'll probably make a wonderful fighter pilot.