Age is a funny thing. I’m a quarter of a century old, and as I’m approaching my third decade of life I find myself reflecting on a lot of things that I never really thought about before. Perhaps that’s an effect of maturity, of becoming a teacher, or perhaps both. All of this culminates in my desire to share the meandering thoughts of a twenty-something who isn’t yet where he expects to be in life.
One of the most prominent topics that I’ve been ruminating on lately has been my own education. This probably isn’t terribly surprising, considering that I’ve just put my first year as a high-school teacher under my belt. However, one aspect that may be somewhat unique to my experience of it is that I’m one of what I tend to call the “Gamer Generation.” Before I go any further with this, I need to define my terms.
Someone of the Gamer Generation is a person who grew up with computer or video games as a staple hobby during their childhood. To these people, interactive electronic entertainment is a constant rather than a novelty. My parents grew up largely without these conveniences, as the industry as a whole was in its infancy during their childhoods. By the time my father bought a Nintendo Entertainment System he was already married and in medical residency, meaning he had plenty of other things competing for his limited time.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the video game industry was hitting its stride after a crash in the late 70s and early 80s. This upswing was due mainly to Nintendo releasing the afore-mentioned console system at a fair price. Subsequently, children of the late 80s and early 90s found video games fairly common. Even if they didn’t have their own console, it was likely that every kid in a white, middle-class American neighborhood knew somebody with a Nintendo or Sega system. Failing that, there was usually someone’s parents who had a nice computer and a few games that they could play. People of the Gamer Generation were aware of games’ novelty to some extent, but never knew a time of life without video games.
I am a member of this generation. I remember when I was 4 (1991) visiting my great aunt and cousin. My cousin had an NES (as did my dad, but my parents wisely kept that a secret for years,) and my sister and I would take turns playing Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. We were terrible at it, but it was a lot of fun and it kept the two of us occupied and relatively quiet. That’s where my interest in games started. More than 20 years later, I still find myself playing games — albeit less frequently than I did in high school and college. Those years hold another group of topics I could touch on, but what struck me a few weeks back was the incredible positive impact that some of these games had on my education. Not always my schooling, per se (I was an idiot with screwed up priorities as a highschool freshman), but certainly my education.
I learned a lot about flight, modern dogfighting, and naval maneuvers thanks to gaming. F/A-18 Hornet taught me the basics of thrust, yaw, pitch, and roll when I was 6. Harpoon taught me about fleet maneuvers in cold-war era simulations of the nations of NATO pitted against the USSR, and how the chain of command and rules of engagement worked. This developed an interest that would send me eventually to Tom Clancy’s naval series of books.
Pictured: Learning experiences circa 1994.
Later in life, games like Civilization and Age of Empires sparked interest in Ancient and Medieval history. To this day, I would argue that the Civilization series’ in-game encyclopedia is one of the best researched documents for teaching history interactively. The Civilization series also helped me to understand what all it took to build and sustain a society, rather than just the history of those societies.
It also taught me never to trust the Greeks in diplomacy, the scoundrels.
Titles like Company of Heroes, Axis and Allies and the original Call of Duty fostered an interest in World War 2 history that I still have. Thanks to those games, I began to research feverishly the different battles, generals, types of weapons and equipment used, types of tanks, etc. Even more than that, it spawned an interest in learning more and more about the reasons why the war occurred. Sometimes those are ugly facts, but they are facts I never would have learned without being inspired to dig deeper. That inspiration came in large part from my gaming hobby.
I learned a decent amount about Japanese weapons after playing Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox. I didn’t learn any real information directly from that game, but it made me ask questions of a good friend and Japanese swordsmith. I also started doing more research into wilderness survival after playing Minecraft, Unreal World, and the recently released Don’t Starve.
Now, you may be asking yourself at this juncture “What’s the point of all this?” That’s a fair question. I see in mass media a lot of hysteria over the potential negative effects of video games — in education, in society, etc. In fact, there are many people who wanted to blame the Newtown, CT shooting on Call of Duty, ignoring the fact that the act of murder is far older than video games. The argument has been made that if video games drastically affected behavior, children of the 80s would be violently stomping every brown mushroom and turtle in sight — common actions in the Mario Brothers series. This simply wasn’t the case.
Although the TV series may have incited some violence with how bad it was.
To be fair, there are legitimate concerns about the abuse of electronic games negatively affecting someone’s life — a topic for another day. But we shouldn’t ignore the positive aspects that gaming can have simply because there is potential for abuse. Puzzle games like the Professor Layton series sharpen problem-solving and logic skills. Action games have been shown to increase reaction times and hand-eye coordination — skills prized in any surgeon. Strategy games test planning, tactical ability, and both macro- and micro-management. All of these are positive skills, but we mustn’t ignore the themes of games as well. The theme can leave a much more lasting impact than gameplay can. There are many themes of history and heroism in gaming, which I believe are very positive things to cultivate interest in. There can also be negative themes in some, but that’s where good judgment is supposed to come into play.
In closing, I’d like to encourage you to not consider video games too broadly. For example, questions like “Are video games good or bad?” or “Are video games dumbing down our kids?” are far too general and inflammatory to be very useful. It’s understandable why we ask these sorts of questions: we like easy answers for things that we either don’t understand or don’t want to take the time to consider. I urge you to reject those sorts of non-specific questions. It’s incredible the impact that games can have on a person — I learned so much directly and indirectly from my gaming hobby that it’s hard to imagine where my real education would be without it. While as Christians, parents, concerned citizens and/or gamers we need to be careful with our hobbies and entertainment, we need to remember not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Images are used for demonstrative purposes only, and represent the intellectual properties of Larry Bond, Firaxis Studios, and Nintendo respectively. No profit or copyright infringement from these images’ use is intended.