8. An Unapologetic Apology for Video Games

I like knives. To be honest, I like sharp objects in general: knives, daggers, sabers, katanas, broadswords, machetes, claymores and pretty much every other kind of blade devised by mankind.

(It would be more politically correct to say humankind, but in this case mankind is probably more accurate since men are the ones responsible for most of the blades in the world.)

Used correctly, knives can be useful for everything from peeling oranges to creating works of art. Used incorrectly, knives can kill and hurt and destroy. Knives are inherently neither good nor bad. Whether they’re good or bad depends on how they’re used.

I’ll return to the exciting subject of knives in a moment, but I should mention first that I’m student teaching at a local high school. The other day I glanced through a book for teachers about the problems of apathy and disrespect in the classroom. I was a little disheartened when the book blamed video games for the lethargy of unmotivated students.

Why was I disheartened?

Because it’s often true.

Video games can be addictive. Some are horribly violent. Many are painfully shallow or stupid. Finally, while I’m no expert in psychology, I think the satisfaction of accomplishing goals in video games can become an unhealthy substitute for the satisfaction of accomplishing goals in real life. Why bother working hard at school when you can save—or conquer—the world in a video game?

Video games can definitely be harmful. So can knives. But knives can also be beneficial, and I think video games can be too.

There are two kinds of apologies. First is an expression or remorse or regret. Second is a justification or defense. This post is the second kind of apology.

If you will, consider the following.

It’s not fair to judge an entire medium by a few bad examples

Yes, there are video games like Grand Theft Auto and God of War that glorify violence, profanity and sexual depravity. There are also books and films and songs that are just as bad or even worse. We don’t condemn all books or films or songs because some are bad. Why then do we assume all video games are harmful because some happen to be?

Video games are a unique form of storytelling

I’ve read many books and played many games. To be honest, some of those games are a lot better than some of those books. The Final Fantasy games, for example, consistently provide fantastic settings, clever plots, superb characterization, interesting themes and (in the later titles) good writing and acting.

Some games even give players the freedom to influence the story by their decisions: the player and the storyteller become partners in bringing the story to its conclusion.

Video games have artistic value

There are people—including some game developers—who would challenge this assertion, but I think video games can be a valid form of artistic expression. Graphic design, animation, writing, music and acting are acknowledged to be forms of art.

Video games bring together some or all of these artistic forms and add the unique element of gameplay, the finely-tuned mechanics that allow a player to interact with the game. How is that not artistic?

Video games are fun

‘Nuff said.

Video games can be thought-provoking

Although we expect them to be intellectually vapid, video games can be quite profound. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, for example, has some fascinating moral dilemmas: Is a harmless illusion better than a painful reality? At what point does a person have the right to make decisions for another person?

The Final Fantasy series deals with all sorts of serious moral, political and ecological themes, and there are many other games that wrestle with issues of equal importance.

Video games bring people together

The stereotypical gamer is a lonely misfit with pale skin and no social experience. However, as is often the case, the stereotype is usually wrong. Most of the gamers I’ve met are cheerful, well-adjusted people. In my own experience, video games have actually strengthened friendships by giving friends something to do together. It’s hard not to enjoy spending time with other people when you’re tossing green shells at each other in Mario Kart or trying to knock each other off the screen in Super Smash Bros.

Is there more to a meaningful friendship than video games? Of course. Can video games be part of a meaningful friendship? Absolutely.

Video games inspire creativity

I’ve seen beautiful artwork inspired by video games and listened to amazing arrangements of video game music. There are many online comics centered on the oddities of games and gaming culture; some of them are really fun to read.

Video games have inspired many creative people to exercise their creativity, and that’s a very good thing.

What are your thoughts? Are video games a good thing? Are they evil? Let us know in the comments!

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