Media can be used for great good. But, as we all know, it can do great harm as well. That’s really in the message more than the medium, but there are certain forms of media that have gotten a really bad rap. Video Games is one of them. But, contrary to what many may think, video games are not inherently harmful. Here are five reasons why.
They can communicate worldviews (good ones as well as bad)
“Video games” is a very wide umbrella. You might think of first-person shooters, Nintendo adventure games, online RPG’s, Angry Birds, or even Freecell on your phone (which, yes, does count). The former items on that list contain more story and always have a role in communicating some sort of worldview. For the first-person shooters (particularly those stemming from World War II), it illustrates a hero and a villain, and there are certain implicit ethics of war depending on how the plot develops. The Legend of Zelda also communicates a worldview by valuing courage, sacrifice, and compassion in a hero fighting against darkness.
You could even take, for example, the NES game Spiritual Warfare, which was essentially a video game adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress (or a Christianized version of The Legend of Zelda, take your pick). This all goes to show that, while games like Grand Theft Auto obviously glamorize crime and violence, bad use of a medium does not mean all use of it is bad.
They don’t actually make you violent
There’s been a long-held assumption that video games are to blame for much of the increasing violence in recent years. The first problem with this assumption (beyond the fact that it is, in fact, an assumption) is that not all video games are violent. There are a plethora of games still to choose from if you don’t want to play Call of Duty or Medal of Honor. But the second problem with this assumption is that the science doesn’t actually back it up. You can read about this study, for example, which found no link. At best, the APA (American Physiological Association) has said it’s linked to aggression, but has been able to link it to violence. Whatever that means. In fact, some games can even provide positive brain development (more on that in a minute).
Now, this is not to say that media does not influence or affect you. I would never make that claim, and I do not support gratuitously violent video games. The point here is only that the fear that video games will systematically turn our children into mass shooters, or even criminals at all, is simply not supported by scientific research. But if that’s something you’re still concerned about, this goes back to the first point – violent messages and worldviews are not the only ones conveyed through games.
It’s a more active medium than television
I have never been able to understand why stereotypical attitudes towards gamers is so much worse that stereotypical attitudes towards people who watch a lot of television. While the former are perceived to be lazy bums, losers living in their moms’ basement, and slackers who will never amount to anything, we have comparatively innocuous attitudes towards television. “Netflix and chill” has few, if any, of these connotations. But the fact is that, while both have the potential to be terrible time-wasters, playing games requires more effort than watching television. This is where the brain development piece comes in – games can actually make you smarter.
Daphne Bavelier, a brain scientist, did some work on this and actually discovered something quite remarkable – people who play fast-paced games actually are developing puzzle-solving and decision-making skills in a way non-gamers are not. In fact, she says that the medium of video games holds great potential for innovative approaches to education (although this certainly is not without its challenges). Checkout this YouTube video for more of her conclusions, which are quite fascinating.
They don’t have to be solitary time-wasters (and are often collaborative)
To be fair, a lot of kids waste a lot of time playing video games. This is absolutely true. But so do a lot of adults – remember, Candy Crush, Angry Birds, and Farmville count, too. And the fact is, while there is that potential for wasting the days away, there is also the potential for more collaborative things.
Let me explain what I mean. I had a friend growing up whose dad really liked to play video games. At first I thought that was weird, just because I didn’t really know that adults *could* like video games (which was probably only a result of the adults who happened to be in my immediate circle as a kid). But what I saw, and what I remember thinking as a kid, was that this dad was taking time to do something with his kids that they were interested in. They had fun together. What was going on there wasn’t just wasting time, but a dad and his kids spending time together.
Dads should also take their kids to do things outside, for sure. And he did. He also took his kids to the zoo, went disc golfing in the park, played basketball in the back yard, and ran around with their two dogs. This is not an all-or-nothing arrangement. Video games can be played in moderation, and they can be done in a way that build friendships and family dynamics.
Entertainment media are ethically and morally neutral
Christians seem to have realized that media (as in the plural of medium) are ethically and morally neutral, because they’ve used them to spread their messages into the world. Christian music, for example, has been a significant force for the past couple of decades. Christian film, while newer, has increased particularly in the past ten years. So for the most part, we’ve realized that these media, while often used for bad, can be used for good, as well. Why should the medium of video games be any different? There’s really nothing that differentiates it as a medium, except that it requires more active participation, which is not an inherently negative thing.
All five of these points can really be summarized in this one simple phrase: it’s the message, not the medium.