Lately (edit: not so lately… my son is on his way to five already! [!!!]) my three year old son has taken to playing video games. Watching him get excited about the “bawk bawk” of Mario’s fireballs brings back fond memories of my own childhood. I can still remember being 5 and begging and pleading with my mom in Kmart to get me my very own Nintendo Entertainment System with 3-games-in-one-controllers-IR-gun-and-runningpad-included-OMG-BBQ! I try to superimpose the rabid lust Nintendo 64 kid has in the popular YouTube video, but I think there was something more pure about my days as a child gamer. I recall a sense of ushering in a revolution in our lives, as though somehow life could not possibly be the same post-NES.
Video games were less common, and thus to some less a threat in those days. Here are some observations about them I believe directly relate to my successes in life:
They taught me patience, passion in perseverance, and reward.
Without endless hours of leveling up characters, trekking to the far reaches of the world map, and saving up to buy the ultimate weapon the satisfaction of a job well done could not have been more soundly earned. All the while meticulously combing hidden places for interesting trinkets of the virtual world. It wasn’t that I spent hours on end to get minimal gains – it was that I really really enjoyed sifting through the details of the world. Work life is a lot like the “grind” – it isn’t beating the boss or getting to the plot twist, but there’s a passionate perseverance that makes the days fly. Many of my coworkers seem to have let the grind get to them instead of taking the mundane by the horns. I’ve found that with a little imagination and asking the right questions to the right people can stir the same passions as games instilled within me!
They taught me how to lose gracefully, put others first, lead and follow.
Social gaming teaches putting value in the experience of the group over the experience of the self. As a corollary, group experiences teach us patience with each others flaws, the chance to learn from those more adept, and to generally be a good sport.
They were a valid, important, and unique creative inlet.
My childhood was directed toward the arts and literature at almost every turn. I have many fond memories of dressing up for the Symphony, which lead to my own pursuit of music. I spent more hours reading than most any other activity (aside for gaming, perhaps!) and the thrill of being transported into a new world never got old. Video games were truly an interactive multimedia experience to me, filled with the same emotions drawn out by the soundtrack and artistry as a symphony or art gallery provided. Many daydreams were just as grand and majestic with video games as from the stories I would create while attending symphonies or delving into classic novels.
Games today as a whole are different – an industry has evolved around them to mass-produce and insulate investors from risk. Every seasoned gamer and paying customer approaches a new game with expectations built upon hours of prior experiences. The games are changed by that, a-priori. My hope is that there will always be a way for true innovators to work their craft in the medium of video games as I grew up with. Not for myself so much, but so my son can live out the same spirit of adventure, challenge, and fun that I had in virtual worlds that truly have no limits!