by Gavin West
Growing up used to involve tossing a ball around,
running through the grass, or playing in the dirt. While those elements of growing up have by no means disappeared, they are no longer the primary definition of how children play. Nowadays, children playing often looks more like Mario racing down the side of a rainbow, soldiers battling on an alien planet, or knights fighting to escape a dungeon. As time goes on, video games become an ever more prominent part of American culture and childhood in particular. The sedentary nature and mature content of many games have raised concerns among many about the effect that these games may have on children. While video games don't fit the same model as sports by any means, they do maintain an important role in preparing children for a more digitally focused adult life. Games and playing in general have always served to build real world skills used in adult life. With the constantly accelerating pace of 21st-century life, people are called on to pick up new skills and adapt to new situations more quickly than ever before. The skills taught by learning to throw and catch a ball can no longer be considered an adequate preparation for that kind of adult life. Video games, however, allow people to learn a far more valuable set of skills, most notably learning how to learn. In my five years as an architecture student, playing video games has certainly contributed to my learning process.
In 2014 the American Psychological Association conducted a broad study of the effects of video games. The study found that players of violent action and shooter games showed improved skills in memory, spatial thinking, and problem solving (Granic, 2014). Another 2013 study found that players of strategy games demonstrated improved problem solving abilities and increase in school grades in the following year (Granic, 2014). It also found that children playing any kind of video game demonstrated increased creativity relative to children simply using other forms of technology like a computer or smartphone. The 2014 APA study also found that even simple games like Angry Birds can decrease anxiety and help reduce emotional stress. A related 2012 study even challenged the myth of the socially isolated gamer. It found that 70% of gamers usually play with a friend, and even went on to point out the inherently social nature of massively multi-player online games like World of Warcraft (Ewoldsen, 2012). While a 2015 APA study confirmed a link between violent video games and increased aggression, no link was found between that aggression and violent of criminal behavior (Appelbaum, 2015).
On a more personal note, my own experience with video games has been particularly helpful to my development as an architecture student. My game of choice is Super Smash Brothers. It's probably the game I've played the most and certainly the one that I'm best at. But how could Nintendo characters hitting each other help some one be a better architecture student? The key to success in Smash Brothers is anticipation. If I were to react to what is already happening in the game, it would be too slow and I would lose. To keep up with skilled players, I have to anticipate their moves before they make them and react to what I think they're going to do before they do it. For instance, if I rush towards a stationary opponent for a running attack, I can't assume that they'll just stand there and let me hit them. In order to connect with the attack, I have to prepare for their reaction. In this particular situation, different ability level players tend to react differently. Novice players will usually try to get out of the way. Fairly skilled players will try to attack themselves as I run forward. Highly skilled players will try to block the attack and then immediately throw a punch as a counter move. Knowing that pattern allows me to react appropriately before my opponent has done anything at all.
I apply this same approach to my work as an architecture student. For instance, if I have a project for a design-based elective due in a week and studio work due every two days, I'll do the elective project as soon as there's a pause in the studio work. Most people wouldn't touch the elective project until the day before its due or maybe the day before that. However, I can't accurately predict what my workload will be a week in the future. With that much time, there are too many variables to be sure that I'll have enough time for the non-studio project. So instead I take the first opportunity on that project, even though it was due later. Otherwise I potentially put myself in a situation where something else could pop up at the last second and then I have two or more huge problems to deal with in a very short period of time. I use the same principle at smaller levels of decision making. When set up my work-flow for studio, I always try to keep in mind what's going to help me the most to have already done. If I know I'm going to need renderings soon, then I need to have plans already finished so that I can use them build a Rhino model more quickly, etc.
Beyond the benefits of individual games and genres of game, the entire system of video games offers substantial learning advantages. While gamers may have favorite games they come back to over and over, they are also constantly playing new games with totally different sets of rules and controls. Juxtaposed with the model of sports, the advantages of this model become immediately apparent. There are only so many sports. According to Wikipedia, there are roughly 8,000 distinct sports in existence. Of those, only 10 or 20 are popularly played by most children in the United States. To be an athlete, a child only has to learn a handful of rule sets and then learn how to use them to their fullest. However, available for download on steam alone there are currently 781,000,000 video games. That number only includes games currently available for PC download, ignoring console games, classic games for older systems, hand held games, smart phone games, etc. Of course, an individual gamer would never play all of those millions of games, but they would play dozens if not hundreds of unique games.
Gamers constantly have to adapt to new worlds that they play in. In a society where new software and applications are introduced every day and where people change jobs more often than ever before, that experience is crucially important. The ability to adapt quickly to change and new environments is one of the most important skills that a person can have in the contemporary workplace. Sports and physical games still teach valuable skills, like the value and dynamics of team work, and the importance of personal fitness. However, if one of the roles of playing is to develop critical skills for adult life, then the skills taught by athletics alone can no longer be considered adequate preparation. Video games serve to develop a new set of skills, demanded by a new life style.