Games are important.
Not everyone understands this, and both games as a medium and gaming as a hobby come under criticism quite frequently for many reasons. When I was a kid videogames were considered either mind-numbing or too violent and tabletop games were the work of Satan. What critics love to overlook is that games as a medium for storytelling allow possibilities that are beyond the reach of other media. Gaming as a hobby gets viewed as a waste of time by some, but gaming can build valuable critical thinking skills as well as teamwork and leadership abilities.
Videogames, like any other story, can shape a person, sometimes more so than other stories.
I wasn’t always very social. I wasn’t good at sports as a kid and I spent a lot of time in books or my own head. The earliest video games I played were a way to pass the time and they were fun, but they wouldn’t consume my day. Then I discovered RPGs. It was like being at the center of a novel. Even though the stories were linear, I felt like I wasn’t just observing the fate of the character. Instead, I was responsible for it.
This extra level of investment really made the narratives stick. The characters and their choices were heavier to me at a young age. I developed my personality based largely on the characters in my games, the Phantasy Star series being one of the most important, and I feel like I’m better for it. I learned about being a hero and making sacrifices, I learned the importance of friends and I learned that you don’t have to be blood related for someone to be family. I learned the importance of manning up when there’s a job that’s got to get done no matter how much you don’t want to be the person to do it, and about forgiving people when they make mistakes. I learned a lot of things from video games and people called me silly for taking them to heart. “Real life isn’t like a videogame” is a fine statement when telling someone they can’t shoot lightning from their fingertips, but that doesn’t mean that games can’t have positive meaning in real life.
Gaming can be meaningful in a person’s social life.
Ok, look, I play League of Legends too and I know that the community on there is pretty horrible. The internet has no barriers and that means that with online gaming you can see some pretty horrible examples of people, but even in the realm of online gaming I’ve forged some meaningful connections. Back when I played DC Universe Online I joined a league called “The Avengers” that seemed to value irony quite a bit. I was at a cold and dark period in my life and that community was a serious bright spot.
Before that, when I first got into tabletop gaming, I gained the first real social life I had ever had. See, talking about fantasy and sci-fi stuff wasn’t always popular. Being a nerd has become mainstream now, something that those of us who grew up when it wasn’t should appreciate and be glad for, but being overtly nerdy used to be a damn good way to not get invited to parties. Throughout the week I was the goofy guy at school who wasn’t really a part of any social circle. I wasn’t outcast so much as I just didn’t fit in. Every Sunday, though, I was part of an adventuring crew or even better, the storyteller for an epic that my friends would enjoy. Eventually, I wasn’t limited to just gaming once a week, I was gaming a lot more often and I had social fulfillment. While the group had formed to play the games, the games became an excuse for the group to get together.
…I know I’m not being academic here.
I can’t show you studies about the effects that gaming tends to have on the average young person, because I haven’t read that many.
I can’t give you data about the correlation between playing games and higher performance on any kind of test or proficiency in any kind of skill.
I can only give you what my experiences have led me to believe, and that is this:
Games, to me, are important.
And I can’t be the only one who feels that way.