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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The good side of video games

I'm of the video game generation, spending my formative years with video games spreading to hotels, roller skating rinks, and convenience stores, and home video game systems in every kid's house.

Back then, there were people who didn't like video games. "Kids are spending too much time playing video games. They should go outside and play. These games are too violent. We need more wholesome entertainment."

Of course, we now know that video games are here to stay. The generation that grew up with an Atari 2600 attached to a TV in the basement is now raising a family, with a PlayStation 2, XBox, or Nintendo 64 for their own kids. And plenty of young adults still find time to play video games. We hear statistics on how video games eclipse movies in terms of revenues (not that anyone considers video games to be more influential than Hollywood). Popular musicians have a PlayStation on their tour bus, and sports stars relax after practice with virtual sports.

But how do people defend video games? For the longest time, all you would hear is the lame comment that video games help hand-eye coordination. (True, but not that big of a deal. Do consider how intuitive things like the mouse interface or thumb keyboards on cellular phones are to people who grew up with a one-button joystick in their hands.)

The main benefit of video games was obvious to me growing up, and I'm surprised more people didn't talk about it. Here is an activity, a socially acceptable activity, that anyone can excel at, regardless of size or strength. The smaller or slower kids who can't compete on the football field in real life can compete on the virtual field and bring their virtual team a NCAA title. These same kids are probably artists, or top academic achievers, or stars of the forensics team. But these activities don't engender a lot of respect from the majority of students, and may in fact lead to the students being targeted. On the other hand, skill with video games is something that is generally accepted among kids.

Only "nerds" are good in school, but everyone, from Poindexter to the newest NBA star, plays video games. And the smart kids, who can remember where the secret room is or recall the twelve-key secret code for extra lives, might just have an advantage in this social competition.

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