Sunday, December 5, 2010

Video Games

Paddy got a Mario Tennis game for his birthday, so he and all his brothers except the oldest are in my room, playing Mario Tennis.   So I have time on my hands.. ... time to wonder -- wonder what makes video games so good?   There must be something good, or they would not be drawn to them.    And knowing what is good in them might help in knowing what they are ordered towards, and what niche they should have in a boy's life.

Given that electronic entertainment and communication are ubiquitous in our society, what is it that makes it so?  (that is two questions, I guess)

I am not much of a video-game player myself, so I can't look for the answer inside myself.    The only kind of game I get addicted to are the brain-quiz games like Who Has the Biggest Brain? and GeoChallenge on Facebook.  And I have fun playing drill games on the computer with my boys, but that's more social and homeschooling-mom-agenda-ish than anything to do with video games. 

It could be that there are several different answers depending on the game format.   As a bookworm, if I was asked why I like books so much, what would I answer?   Surely to a great degree, it would depend on the book itself.  They are individuals.  The same is probably true of games.

My boys seem to like games because they are:

  • Visual
  • Clever
  • Challenging
  • Competitive in a social way
  • Adventurous
  • Imaginative and fanciful
  • Even aerobic (my new 8 year old gets a total body workout no matter what he plays because of the way he jumps around).
  • Easy (in the physical sense that you just turn on the game and go -- you don't have to gather all kinds of fancy supplies, set things up, put a lot of wishful thinking into them like smart kids had to do with chemistry kits, magic sets, inventions and all the other types of things kids did in the olden days)

I think most games operate on the "gateway" model that my oldest son sometimes talks about.   You see it in books, too.   One "gate" opens and there is a new vista or field that wasn't available before.  A lot of things that are called "addictive" actually get boring and repetitive in themselves because it's not the "thing", simply the "hit", that you are looking for.   You drink alcohol even when you hate it, or eat chocolate even after you are full, and certainly neither are particular fun once you get past the surfeit point.

Video games are different.  Sure, you do get that weird over-indulged feeling when you've overdone it.  I see it happening to my younger kids when they over-play.   They get cranky and off-balance.   But VGs have a sort of intellectual element that things like eating, drinking and smoking simply don't have.   And as a point in case, you can get that weird over-indulged feeling when you've read too many books, or even studied for too long.  At least, that has happened to me. 

Sometimes I think about River City and the pool halls.   Are video games like having casinos or pool halls in one's own home?    But I suppose those things would quickly lose most of their interest if money and raffishness and liquor and pretty girls and such things weren't associated with them.   So it seems to me that the draw of video games is something besides the casino/pool hall/poker type thrill.

I do think easiness and accessibility are probably the main questionable elements.   So much is already there at your fingertips.  And it's easy to become overstimulated by the visual intensity.   This of course is totally aside from content.  As to content, if we assume the child is playing basically wholesome games, most games aren't quite there in moral weight compared to an excellent book, for example.  But perhaps that is the wrong standard to compare them to. 

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