06 May 2015
Is there anything more to video games’ popularity than violent fantasies and mindless escape? Can they ever teach us about who we are as a community and how we can be better? As a father and a teacher struggling to instill values in my kids and my students — who were all born, it seems, clutching video-game controllers — I wanted to find out.
Games – video or otherwise – are not any one thing and it is increasingly nonsensical to refer to them as such. They can be evocative in radically different ways with varied mechanics and modes of input. They can educate us about the world we live in and about the people that we may encounter; or they can provide us fantastical settings and characters that are wholly alien to our lived experiences. They can give us tools and techniques for navigating worldly affairs; or they can create new languages and codes for exploring digital systems. They can be beautiful and awe-some; or they can be disgusting and horrific.
To say that The Shawshank Redemption, Inception, and Black Swan are all movies tells us almost nothing – merely the medium through which their narratives, themes, and characters are expressed. This is likewise the case when trying to compare Call of Duty with Monument Valley or The Oregon Trail with System Shock. The experiences are varied and calling them merely ‘violent fansties’ or ‘mindless escape’ is entirely mistaken (and, of course, unhelpful).1 We are far beyond the point where we should speak about the medium with generalizations like that, particularly when accompanied by moralizing attitudes towards the content or its consumers. God of War and Gears of War can both reasonably be considered expressions of testosterone and violence;2 The Legend of Zelda less so; and Mirror’s Edge likely not at all. This is again the case when trying to suggest that they are all a waste of time.
And if the games that you are encountering seem to be nothing but errands for fools, perhaps you should go find better games. They are certainly out there.