Questionable Motives

March 15, 2010

Why is computer gaming – at $50 billion a year and growing – so popular?

Filed under: commentary,Computers,Culture,Entertainment — tildeb @ 2:17 pm

Today Tom Chatfield, Prospect arts and books editor and computer game fiend, says computer games aren’t just for teenage boys locked in their bedrooms – they are chewy fodder for the brain and vital tools for both social and intellectual development… and they’re fun.

Games are now starting to compete with the most sophisticated forms of other media, as well as the crudest. And they are taking up an increasingly large amount of our time. I think that this is a big deal. We need to be able to talk incisively about what the medium has to offer, and what its real dangers are, instead of falling back on a vision of games that’s ten year out of date and riddled with cliché.

Why do people fear the effects of video games?

You have this emerging medium which is a lightning rod, a convenient symbol, and something very easily misunderstood. Because of the history of games, there have always been insiders and outsiders. Now, we have a situation in which the experience of one generation is being very rapidly outdated by the experience of the next generation. This fracture is dangerous and it presents enormous challenges: in this sense, people are right to see large and real social concerns in games. But most critics haven’t yet managed to open up a productive or realistic debate, because they tend to start from a position that is not based in the reality being lived by most users of new media, but rather in fears based on a few exceptional cases.

Read the entire article here and find out Tom’s picks for his best FiveBooks and FiveGames here.


  1. I think video games should be timed. You cannot allow your child to sit their mindlessly for hours playing games – especially violent one’s. It’s the same as watching mindless television. They need to use their imaginations. Gaming can be fun,but needs to be used moderately like everything else in life. Too much of anything is not good. People need to think, create and expand their minds. That’s when they find God 🙂

    Comment by 4amzgkids — March 16, 2010 @ 2:02 am | Reply

  2. 4amzgkids, you comment seems all over the place. I agree that moderation is key, but timing video games, and comparing them to something like The Price is Right? If you are a responsible person yourself, or have more responsible people around you then surely they can direct those communication skills that they’ve supposedly developed outside of the gaming world at you. Putting limitations where none are required is what ironically blocks what you seem to want, which is thinking, creating, and expanding one’s mind. Surely you wouldn’t be so mean as to put gaming at the same level as mindless game shows, right?

    Speaking through personal experience, I can tell you that gaming has gone far beyond what I suspect your stereotypical thoughts encompass. Are you neglecting to consider one of the marvels of recent technology? I speak of the internet, and how it has brought video games to a whole new level. I will use only one game to enlighten you and others as to how I think those three things you mentioned are actively encouraged and demanded through gameplay. This game is called Armed Assault 2 (ArmA2).

    Thinking: By far, one of the best ways to make your brain think is by putting it into a situation that isn’t cozy in. ArmA2 throws me and a dozen of my friends into an environment that we aren’t familiar with, forcing us to cope with a lack of knowing how anything will play out. Then, we are given some sort of objective: securing a compound, rescuing a hostage, gathering intel, or even skydiving into enemy territory at midnight to eliminate some enemy asset like a radar dish or helicopter. If you think that any of those objectives sound like a cake walk, then I’m very jealous. For us, this requires excellent communication skills, and a variety of opinions from different people who are thinking of diverse and out-of-the-box means of tackling whatever problem has presented itself. I believe that these kind of goals demand superb thinking skills of the people involved, and I have yet to be disappointed by any straight-forward and unimaginative tactical plan.

    Creating: Many games released in the past five years have come with an editor. What is an editor, you may ask? It is the program that the developers of the game used to make it. Basically, they are providing a sandbox for you to be as creative as you want with their product. In ArmA2, you can make any mission you can think of using its editor. In another game called Crysis, the editor itself is named “Sandbox” because using the same tool that the developers used to make the game means that you are free to create any adventure, any story, and any scenario that you can think of. Even when playing through these missions that you have created, or campaigns created by other gamers in the global gaming community, you are creating memorable experiences with people that you’ve met online, and forging bonds of friendship that might never have been possible without video gaming.

    Expanding Your Mind: If you think about how the past two topics are relevant in ArmA2, surely you can understand how in a game like this, you are opening your mind to new experiences that you would probably have never gotten the chance to live through otherwise. On a personal basis, this game has taught me about the values of teamwork, leadership, and communication, while at the same time inspiring me to learn more about how the game was made through coding, and how to make a mission of my own. It even opened my eyes to some career opportunities: namely, being a helicopter pilot, which I would not have considered had I not gotten the chance to see how they work through video games. Even in the military, simulators are basically one big video game – in fact, what ArmA2 was modeled around. Other careers that I’ve been inspired about are related to a Medevac line of work, whether it be as a pilot or as a medical care professional, helping people who are in dire need of it.

    For you to say that thinking, being creative and expanding your mind are all limited to experiences outside of video games is somewhat naive. Video games, of course, can be simple minded and vaguely entertaining, falling into some of the major stereotypical niches of gaming. If you open your eyes to all of the other genres of gaming, however, you’ll see that there are plenty of opportunities to use your brain in new and interesting ways. Games promote unaccustomed and stimulating ideas and require exactly what you seem to want: thinking, creativity, and encouraging new ways of thought.

    Comment by GoldSabre — March 16, 2010 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

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