Talking Point: The Positive Power of Gaming

Stepping away from blaming games

We live in a world where blame is often too easily shifted and personal responsibility too easily avoided. Excuse-making has arguably become the fad of our time; as the laundry-list of blame-accepting environmental influences grows larger, the courage to accept and improve our own faults seemingly becomes more rare.

It’s in this environment that legislators, executive officers and community groups gather to determine the impact of violent games on the minds of impressionable youths and adults. Not to be misunderstood, there is a place, even in an excuse-making world, for these types of investigations and legislative remedies meant to better our societies. And, if there is a proven connection linking violent video games to the ever increasing occurrences of unspeakable acts of rage, our world could be better off without them – or at least benefit from stronger age-gating. But for every criticism of the video game industry (founded or unfounded), there are many unheard and unrepresented voices of those who have been positively influenced by gaming.

Certainly, violence is not the only criticism of video games. While the debate over violent games rages in the wake of recent tragedies, it is worth noting that criticism of the gaming community is nothing new. Any discussion on the merits or vices of the medium should recognize that this debate is longstanding and broader than the current issues over violence.

To be sure, almost every game has some amount of violence built into its game-play. When they were first introduced to mainstream culture, many of us may remember the shock of seeing the wholesome, even if pixilated, Mickey Mouse fall victim to Peg-Leg Pete in a pirate-ship battle. Even the swing of Link’s sword or the flash of Rock’s blaster deals death to any creature that dares come in their path. Admittedly, the violence in these games (and many like them) pales in comparison to the realistic modern-day shooters, designed to give the player as close to a real-life experience without actually pulling the trigger of a gun. Still, the point bears repeating: violence is inherent to nearly all video games.

Whether well-intentioned or another attempt to shift blame, the recent impetus to investigate and ban violent games ignores one key piece of information: for many, they’re a source of comfort in difficult times.

Video games are familiar, predictable and easy to understand in an otherwise complicated world.

Video games are familiar, predictable and easy to understand in an otherwise complicated world. Examples abound of people who, through no fault of their own, have become lost, scared and, in their own eyes, alone. Despite best efforts, health, family relationships and social surroundings can spin out of control. But every time someone boots up a video game, he or she takes command; the destiny of their character and an entire world, waiting to be saved, is within their power. With hard work and a little luck, the player can accomplish great feats, go on unimaginable adventures and become the hero of an entire civilization.

If he or she stumbles along the way, no matter – checkpoints, extra lives and fresh starts provide a consequence-free way to keep moving toward an end goal. Video games can offer hope amid bleakness, endow courage to overcome and, put simply, make people feel good about themselves. They offer second chances in a world where re- starts are difficult to come by. Regardless of personal circumstances, many of us have experienced this kind of comfort and healing-power afforded by a simple video game.

One well-documented example of this positive influence of video games is that of Steve Wiebe, a former Donkey Kong champion, whose pursuit of a world-record is chronicled in the documentary film, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Steve used games to help get him through a difficult time, which included the hardship of a job layoff. In his own words, describing the comfort he received from playing Donkey Kong, Steve said, “When I got laid off and I had time on my hands, I was thinking ‘what can I do to feel like I have control of something?’ With this, it’s just me and the machine. It doesn’t matter if you let me down or someone doesn’t come through, I’m in control.”

Looking back on his period of unemployment, Steve’s wife recalled that video games were a “Godsend to him the last couple of years to get him through, it was a safe-haven for him.” Sometime later, after Steve had been chasing a world record and an elusive matchup with renowned Donkey Kong expert, Billy Mitchell, stress and time away from family had taken its toll on Steve’s wife, who again said of her husband, “he was searching … he wanted something and I wanted that for him because I wanted him to be happy, so now I see that.”

Steve Wiebe’s experience may resonate with many, especially young gamers looking for something certain in an uncertain world – something, as Steve Wiebe put it, to control. It doesn’t matter if school, family or health let them down, video games can be a welcome diversion for many young people searching for happiness. That much needs to be understood by anyone who advocates banning the sale of violent video games. In the process of gathering information and formulating legislation and community rallies, it must be understood that many turn to video games for reasons much nobler than the pursuit of violence.

Again, this is not an attempt to put a stop to these types of investigative discussions. In fact, the tendency to shift blame to violent video games and the call for personal responsibility falls just as squarely on the shoulders of gamers as it does the legislators and lawmakers. Rather, the purpose of this article is to point out that there is a deeper-seeded issue at play and that many turn to games for positive reasons, not with an intention to hurt.

So, as discussions move forward to determine the impact of violent video games, let the unrepresented voices of gamers be heard to say that there is a deeply powerful quality about video games, a quality that helps many to overcome problems, cultivate courage, inspire hope, and most importantly find a source of happiness.

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