October 8, 2008

The Benefits of Computer Games

by Charlie Wilcox

Sid Meier. Will Wright. John McCormack. These are household names in the gaming community. But their accomplishments and inspirations remain relatively unknown to the rest of the world. This is because video games have gained a bad rap with controversial releases like Grand Theft Auto and Doom. But video gaming is actually very good for you.

Most studies on how video games are good for you focus on shooter and driving games. This is because these types of games are the ones that sell the most. They are also the game genres that get the widest coverage outside the gaming community. First-person shooter and driving games are beneficial because they help improve reflexes and force gamers to react quickly in intense situations.

A BBC study found that "by forcing players to simultaneously juggle a number of varied tasks, action video game playing pushes the limits of three rather different aspects of visual attention."

However, these are not the only types of games that benefit players. Strategy games also offer many benefits, but may not be as obvious to the average consumer. Games such as the Civilization series, improve a player’s critical thinking skills because the mechanics of the game make players multitask and manage complex situations at the same time. Specifically, the Civilization series has a gamer manage their economy, diplomacy, as well as their military at once. From my own experience of playing strategy games for over ten years, I can say that this can get very difficult, especially when playing online with other people. I have even lost a game due to my inability to manage all that was going on.

Strategy games also make gamers analyze complex situations to find the best way to counter their opponent. This is helped by the frequent use of a ‘rock-paper-scissors’ style for combat advantages. In this system, one type of unit may have an advantage over another, but it will also have a weakness against a third type of unit. A good example of this comes from Runescape, a tactical role-playing game. The combat in Runescape is set up so the three classes, melee fighters, rangers, and mages, have an edge over one of the other classes and are weak against another class. For instance, mages have an advantage over melee fighters but are weak against rangers. This forms a combat triangle and forces the player to analyze the forces of his opponent in order to build up the best counter against it. The rock-paper-scissors system is common in many other games, such as the Total War series, and Fire Emblem.

The final and most important way that less combat-focused games are good for you is that they can give you glimpses of the real world. While obviously not perfect representations of what goes on in the world, they provide simplified models that are easy to understand and can inspire children to explore that area as a future career or study option. Tycoon games like Railroad Tycoon and Capitalism get kids interested in business and help them learn about basic economics such as supply and demand. Games like SimCity teach about urban planning and developing a city. My own experience with grand strategy games such as those developed by Paradox Interactive is what got me interested in international relations and is what led me to go into international studies in school. The variety of games developed by Paradox Interactive such as their Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron immerse the player in the time period covered by the game. These have also been the games that I have found the most enjoyable with my great interest in history. These games most accurately portray the historical systems at work in their games, such as the Reformation to the nationalism of the nineteenth century.

Clearly, the genre of strategy games offer the greatest benefits to those that play them and should be praised as tools to improve critical thinking and management skills.

(Photo by Tojosan of St. Peters, MO via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

Add to Technorati Favorites


No comments: