The Art of Gaming

I’ve talked about video games before. My kids played when they were younger, then in their teens, and still to this day. Their grandmother before them was a die-hard gamer. In addition to the strictly for fun or ‘feeding the rage-monster side of your personality’ class of games, there are science-y games, math games, even reading games, all of which help nurture a love for learning. My kids had them all … today, however, the educational games have decidedly progressed to the point that STEM camps and classrooms use them as a tool in an ever-growing instructional arsenal.  This is a good thing.  For the most part, though, parents – and adults in general, see video games as a waste of money, a waste of space, and a waste of time.

Before you tell your son or daughter to get off the computer, stop playing those useless games, and get a life, stop and consider: some people make a full-time living playing video games.  Between live streaming themselves on You Tube, testing out apps and games for the market, and competing in real-time challenges for pay, someone can make some pretty good scratch playing computer games.

It’s a shame, really, that you can’t add video gaming skills to a job resume.  Other than “annihilating your enemies,” and “driving the get-away car really fast,” video games teach kids valuable life lessons.  Don’t believe me?

Computer skills:  This is a no-brainer, but you need decent computer skills to excel in video gaming.  Many games have “mods,” for instance, which are modifications that the user can design and use in-game.   Games develop hand and eye coordination, and many kids can thank the gaming world for their ability to trouble shoot computer issues, type without looking at the keys, and think quickly on their feet.  Today’s kids are much more advanced in computer skills than their parents ever will be; ask any kid who has tried to walk their parent through using Skype, the latest iteration of Excel, or God help us all, PowerPoint.

Team Building and Leadership:   Parents may not be aware of this, but to excel in many video games the players need to join alliances and become team players to beat the challenges.  These kids are also learning the art of commitment and follow-through, even in a virtual world. A player’s online reputation is important to them; reliability and loyalty are valuable traits in a player.   Kids will develop pretty tight online friendships with teammates, and to them, meeting up to kill a troll in a game is as much a firm Friday night plan as going to the mall used to be for us parents but with a little more sorcery, swordplay, and bombing.

Problem Solving:  So how exactly does a fifteen-year-old raid an enemy camp, steal supplies, kill the leader and escape undetected?  This skill may not equate to real world experience; I’m pretty sure no boss will instruct an employee to break into a rival’s office, steal pens and staplers, and poison the air filtration system.  Still, these game quests teach kids to use logic and reasoning to solve complex issues – skills that can translate to any activity in the real world. Frankly, grocery shopping would be a lot more fun if we could add an element of video gaming to it.  Sneak up on fellow shoppers and take stuff out of their carts, joust in the aisle of the store, and barter for coins?  Yes, please!

Time Management:  In the video game world, many challenges revolve around time.  You may only have a set number of minutes to finish a quest, or you lose a life.  Imagine this in the real world; if you don’t get all of the items on your grocery list in a preset amount of time, your cart disappears, and you have to start all over again.  Personally, I’d love that.  It would take care of those lollygaggers in the produce aisle once and for all. I know, I know, I keep mentioning grocery stores … I’m hungry.  But seriously, in a dog-eat-dog business setting? Time is everything. Time management is a much-needed skill.

Thinking Ahead:  Video games today are far more complex than Space Invaders.  Older video games that we grew up on didn’t rely as heavily on fast thinking and planning; most of our games were luck and plain old good timing.  Today’s video games require luck, good timing, planning, logic, and thinking ahead.  Players need to consider their plans carefully, and they learn from prior defeats in similar quests.  They are constantly thinking, plotting, and planning.  These abilities are valuable in the job market as well as all-you-can-eat buffets.  Sorry, I’m still hungry.

Parents need to chill a little if they have a kid obsessed with online gaming.  Limit their onscreen times (duh), but don’t dampen their enthusiasm entirely.  After all, today’s kids didn’t invent obsessive hobbies.  Remember Saturday morning cartoons? Comic books? Rubik’s Cubes? Pac-Man? In fact, if you really want to look at it, our obsessions didn’t teach us a damn thing except that if you gulped cherries you became super charged, if you peel the stickers off the cube and stick them back on you could tell people you solved the cube, and the coyote will never catch that road runner no matter how many Acme products he buys.

Our kids may be obsessed and afraid of daylight, but they can take out a zombie with a slingshot and damn it, that’s a handy skill to have.

Circling back to that “driving the get-away car really fast” observation, check out this news story (click pic for the article) … See? Video games do pay off!

Gaming Grandma

Once upon a time, kids played innocent video games that had, as their selling point, learning and teachable moments embedded in the fun.  LeapFrog was one of these; a creative, book-oriented electronic game whose only purpose was to teach our kids how to count, how to read, and how to sing very annoying songs. My kids were no exception.  We leaped with the best frogs.

Next came computer games, like Club Penguin, Toontown, and Jumpstart.  These were adorable games where the kids learned to chat in controlled phrases, and they began to experience their first taste of competition.  The next logical step was Pokémon and Naruto, where competition, chatting, and teamwork became part of everyday life.

From there, my kids jumped into League of Legends, where the sole purpose of the game was to annihilate other players.  Yay, progress.

When my son was living at home, I would hear the muffled thuds, the not-so-muffled thuds, the cursing, the banging, and occasionally the overturned chair coming from the sanctity of his room.  I wondered, but no way was I going into a teenage boy’s room alone; God only knows what science projects he had brewing under his bed or in his dirty laundry hamper.   It was hard to tell if he needed a new hobby, more practice, or better friends.  My daughter wasn’t much better, only her game frustrations were much quieter and spilled out to the dinner table in the form of dirty looks and grumbling.

I went through the usual parental worrying.  Do they spend too much time online?  Are they secretly chatting with some 60-year-old pervert in a pink tutu in this multi-player game?  Do they need to get out and socialize with the real world?  And most importantly, will they end up living in my basement into their forties?

Obviously, my kids got their video chops from their cool mom, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I don’t like video games, they make me anxious and I get stressed when I play.  I blame Milton Bradley’s Perfection. While not a video game, it was a battery-operated panic attack. Besides, life is like a video game, with adventures to be found at the grocery store, the freeway, and, occasionally, the kitchen when I try a new recipe.

So, if not me, where did they get this video game aptitude from?  Well, look one generation back, and there it is.  Thanks, mom.

Oh yes, you read that right.  My mom, sweetest lady, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the picture of innocence.  My mom was a pro gamer before gaming was cool.

First it was Atari. That was too easy for her. Asteroids, tennis, and pong?   It was like shooting fish in a barrel for my mother. Come to think of it, she had that game too.

The next level of her addiction came with new heroes, courtesy of Sega Genesis.  Round, prickly ones named Sonic.  Sonic ushered in some of his closest friends, including Zelda, who rode in on the wave that was Super Nintendo.  The original Zelda, thank you very much. Kids think they know Zelda, but you’ve never played Zelda until you’ve played it on the original gaming platform, in full glorious side-scrolling wonder with its tinny music and recycled backgrounds.

Then, hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen … along came Mario Brothers.  My mother immediately forgot everything else in the world as she threw herself into mastering this game.  My family frequently went without eating for days at a time, no clean clothes, up to our ankles in our own game, “Chase the Dust Bunnies.”

Of course, that’s not true, but she was completely obsessed with the game.  I still remember when she hit the high score or won the game, whichever the goal was.  She left the game on the entire day as proof and if I recall correctly, she took a picture of the tv screen for good measure because she was afraid no one would believe her. I like to think that the birth of my brother and me were the happiest days of her life, but I tell you, I’m not so sure.

Once she conquered the world of supersonic mammals, Italian plumbers, and valiant quests, she went for a more maternal distraction because, apparently, a real family wasn’t enough stress. She went full on geek and got herself a Tamagotchi critter, which I think was a dog.  She even took it camping and on vacation, so it wouldn’t die.  I have no idea how long it survived, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was years. Hell, she may still have it in a closet somewhere, secretly feeding it and dutifully cleaning up its little digital poops.

I often wonder, does my complete inability to play video games reflect poorly on her?  Or did her gaming ability soar straight through my DNA without passing GO and hit my kids squarely in the controllers, picking up power as it went?  If that’s the case, then my great-grandchildren will be amazingly gifted… prodigies even.

As for me, I’m still playing the fun video game, “set my car clock for daylight savings time.”  It’s been going on for days now. Fall back indeed. Just what the hell did I do with that owner’s manual?