Verdict on Video Games?

Didn’t T do a great job with her first post? Now maybe you can help us discuss a related issue. T thinks that video/computer games are not significantly more interactive/worthwhile than TV, while I think they are. Note that we are both in agreement that TV-watching is generally brain-rotting (and thus must be moderated), and book-reading is brain- and life-enriching (and thus must be strongly encouraged). But when #1 asks if he can play Nemo or play Star Wars, I am more likely to assent (especially if he has already watched a lot of TV that day), while T is more likely to decline (especially if he has already watched a lot of TV that day).

In defense of my side, I contend that video games are inherently interactive (perhaps even more so than books (although this alone does not make them better than books)), because you have to act in order for the game to act, and then you have to react. I also refer you to an article from Discover magazine, which asks the question, If video games are so bad, where are all the victims? Kids who O.D. on video games are typically geeks that do really well in school. (Although I have to admit that nowadays a new stereotype has arisen: apathetic frat boys who fritter away their chance at a decent education by living and breathing Madden 200x). I think that #1 has learned a lot about the rewards of patience, practice, and perseverance from his efforts to master the games linked above.

And here I present T’s rebuttal. I’ll save any further rebuttals of my own for the comment thread.

Yes, video games are more interactive than TV, but both are for amusement. Like educational TV, educational video games only can teach so much; the main subconscious message taught is that learning must be fun! This message seems to cancel out any of the “good” from the video game. I’ll address each of your pluses for video games.

Patience: Video games may teach him patience during the actual game play, but that lesson does not (or has not as far as I can tell) transfer to patience in other areas. He still gets extremely upset and frustrated when a thing is not done right or how he thinks right should be. Poor boy, he gets that trait from me. Also, they seem to overstimulate him even more so than TV. When he finishes shooting up battleships and turns the game off, his play with #2 is much more intense and out of control. He’s energetic anyway, but after more than 30 minutes on the Star Wars game, he’s like a squirrel hopped up on goofballs. When “Scrat” emerges, #1 and #2 are more likely to come crying to me with some preventable injury.

Practice: Practice came from phonograms and writing his letters. When I mention how something takes practice to be done well or at all, I don’t mention his high score in a video game, I tell him about learning to write a capital G, about how hard it was and how many times he had to write a capital G before they stopped looking like 6’s. I do not remind him about how many times he needed to play battleship to get the high score. Do you refer to video games in times where practice is needed? In the end, isn’t better that he can write a capital G legibly than get the high score on battleship?

Perseverance: That boy was born perseverant; he doesn’t need video games to help him with that. Wouldn’t this or this be better for him to learn about perseverance than throwing kelp balls to Bruce the shark?

What do you think?


7 Responses

  1. Whoa — turning to scripture! You brought a gun to my knife-fight! Well here's what you get for that! And here's my re-re-buttal (bo selecta).

    As for patience and perseverance, I guess you've got all the empirical evidence in that department, so I can't really argue with you. I'm just impressed that, given his general lack of patience, he has been able to focus on his Star Wars games to get so good at them. I have to think that's good for something. I don't think I've ever used video game results as an illustration of patience in other areas, but I have highlighted to him that his high scores are due to all of his practice.

    Also, I think you headed off in another direction when you mentioned educational TV. I'm not talking about educational TV, I'm just talking about regular TV. Anyways, #1 doesn't watch KPBS anymore, so the closest he comes to educational TV is Jimmy Neutron (which is just Nickelodeon's rip-off of the cleverer and better-animated Dexter's Laboratory). I think video games (can) have some redeeming value, educational TV has some redeeming value (probably different value), and regular TV has no redeeming value (except as a sedative).

    And what's wrong with fun? A good novel is fun, and we certainly want to teach him how to enjoy a good book. I think therefore that educational TV is actually destructive in the net, in that it doesn't do much in the way of education, and it reinforces the 'learning must' be fun fallacy. As long as we keep #1 clear that TV/Video Games are entertainment, not education, we should be able to steer him clear of that fallacy, and in the meantime we can do our best to keep his entertainment edifying. And full of good books.

  2. I wonder if a potential worry with video games are that they are specifically designed to optimize the reward-for-effort ratio, taking into account the risk of boredom if it’s too easy. Real life naturally requires significantly more effort for a satisfaction hit, so it may be possible that routine immersion in the gaming reward framework during maturation may breed a degree of dissatisfaction with real life.

    I grew up with a zx81 and a spectrum, and I spent huge lengths of time playing games. None of them were as visually spectacular as can be achieved on commodity gaming platforms these days. This may mean that I invested more imagination in the process – perhaps on a sliding scale between radio and TV with the added interaction? Probably stretching those comparisons a bit far.

    I reckon with a kid as bright as #1 (and I assume #2, though I haven’t met him) it’s unlikely to hurt for him to experience as many different forms of stimulus as possible. If your source of games does a low-loss exchange thing (hooray for Game and its like), that’s cool. If he’s young enough to still want to do the mind-bendingly repetitive thing, are you training him into enjoying that approach for longer than would be natural?

    Just let me prod ItchyThumbs…

  3. You've got an interesting point with the reward-for-effort ratio. T&I were discussing how it is similar to the curse of the sitcom, in which you learn that every problem can be solved in 30 minutes (or perhaps an hour at the end of a season, when a Very Special episode is To Be Continued…).

    This may mean that I invested more imagination in the process

    This reminds me of my recent rediscovery of Jumpman, which was implemented under the memory and speed constraints of 1983 (does there even exist any device nowadays that has RAM, and has less than 64K of it?). Thus they were forced to create a game that relied on cleverness instead of flashiness. I think the best games have this kind of beauty due to simplicity. Tetris.  Minesweeper.  See also the previous discussion of Orisinal (which has incredible visual appeal, but never at the expense of content) (#1 saw Bugs for the first time yesterday, and was fascinated, even though our 900mhz "computer" could barely handle it).

    If your source of games does a low-loss exchange thing (hooray for Game and its like)

    I don't understand those words — more please?

  4. Sorry – my bad. If the place you buy your games from does a decent exchange service, then you could turn round the content the boys get exposed to more frequently. When the boys get through a game a couple times, replace it with something new. I tend to get mine from Game (recently merged with Electronics Boutique). ItchyThumbs cycles his games with them. He has a playstation 2, a nintendo DS and a PC, and wallops away at all of them. See for some degree of insight.

    I tend to keep my games when I’ve finished them and trundle through the good ones again years later. Tomb Raider III is still a joy. Watching the graphics age is odd. But we’re talking about the young ones here. Imagine showing Lucas the Nemo thing on his 21st?

    Have you played the Grim Fandango?

  5. Sorry, that’s a game by Lucasarts:

    A charming puzzler.

  6. We are certainly video game neophytes compared to your majesterial jelliness. We don't have PlayStation, XBox, N64, GameCube, GameBoy, or any suchlike. Which is why the Star Wars thingy linked above is so convenient; games are contained in the controller, and you just play it on your TV. I don't see us buying any game consoles in the near future. Maybe #1 will get the yen and save up to buy his own in 10 years or so, but until then, I think we'll be restricted to the PC.

  7. I think the best way for a young boy to learn perseverance is for him to go outside and kill things. (Things that are hard to kill, of course, like rabbits or squirrels.) This “kills two birds with one stone” so-to-speak, as it teaches perseverance and dominion AT THE SAME TIME! WOOT!

    My main thing against video games is I don’t want my boys to be geeks. I want them to be smart, savvy, problem solvers, yes (and I agree that a dash of video games can help with this), but I don’t want them to spend inordinate amounts of time inside staring at a screen, living their life in a make-believe world. So, when they do play video games: 1. They are shooting a terrorist or dropkicking a ninja or something manly like that. and 2. They are playing a game that does not go on into eternity (like those wicked RPGs). I want them to get OUTSIDE and conquer in the REAL world.

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