Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
07 February 2006
Overstating the case for games
Trying to make the case against state regulation of videogames, this Next-Generation editorial appears to miss the mark.

It begins by reporting that Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, "makes the argument that many video games include complex problem solving which both challenge and help kids develop skills necessary to navigate the world". What kind of complex problem solving? Apparently the games have "puzzles, data pattern recognition, incomplete information, ambiguity and tracking [of] multiple characters in story lines". These are all things that one can get from an issue of Games magazine and a well-chosen novel, and while they put videogames in reasonably good company, they don't point out what makes videogames better than those other media. What about strategy in Civilization, resource management in Command & Conquer, narrative creation in World of Warcraft, and teamwork in Counter-strike? These seem more important than puzzles and pattern recognition. And is anyone really convinced that the puzzles in today's videogames are worth bragging about? I bet more people visit GameFAQs to get answers to poorly-designed problems than visit to get answers to devilishly clever logic puzzles.

The editorial continues that Johnson says games require "sustained concentration", and while I'll agree that games do, I'm not convinced that it's an intellectual concentration. I'll concede that strategy and resource management require a certain depth of thought, but these aren't the games under discussion. Most puzzle and pattern recognition games don't require deep thought, and concentration is required primarily for boring, repetitive combat situations.

Later on in the piece interactivity, what really sets videogames apart from most other media, is finally raised. Good, that's a real strength, but then it goes off talking about how MTV teaches kids to process information more quickly. That claim seems specious to me, but I'd welcome evidence to the contrary.

The second half of the editorial draws on Harold Schechter's book Savage Pastimes. Here we learn that human beings are inherently violent and that games are just the latest in a sequence of new media villainized as corrupting the day's youth. This is nothing new, but it's hardly a positive defense of videogames. And the comparison of violence in games to the worst in human nature come across equally poor: "Videogames: not as bad as public hangings".

I'm not saying that videogames aren't worthwhile. I think they are, and I intend to involve my own child in playing them, but this editorial the best we can do. It appeals to authority, puts forth a couple of comforting but hardly proven arguments, and doesn't even cite some of the real strengths of this new medium. We can, and I hope will, do a better job of defending videogames from regulation.
--Matt Matthews at 21:44
Comment [ 1 ]

Comments on this post:

One of the best arguments I have seen in awhile has come from Seymour Papert in his book, The Connected Family - It's an older book, but he talks about the concept that playing video games and using technology teach our children one of the most important lessons out there - how to learn. When you are faced with the complex problems and situations created by games, you need to learn how to solve them on the fly. The only way you learn to think like that is by practicing, and games provide that practice. That thing you posted about finding 100 coins in the first level of Super Mario World? You found it because you know how to learn. There are lots of other situations that come up in real life where knowing how to learn helps tremendously, but we don't even know we are doing it because we as gamers have had so much practice.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 08 February, 2006 10:43  

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