To play or not to play

Nick Lachance

Photo by Nick Lachance.

Canada has the third largest video game industry in the world after the United States and Japan, and is expected to continue growing.

A new generation of “gamers” now exists within society that, according to UCLA psychology professor Patricia Greenfield, demonstrates increased nonverbal IQ in such abilities as spatial skills, the use of images to solve problems and understanding of different perspectives.

Is the influence of gaming on our culture an effect that we should study and positively learn more about? Or will we continue to see it as a largely irrelevant, mindless activity and perhaps as an effect that we should try to mitigate?

“Profile of a Canadian Gamer,” a 2010 article from the CBC, presented a survey of 3,571 citizens in which most gamers were determined to be in their mid-thirties. However, the definition of gamer used for this, and similar studies, has been “a person who has played computer or video games in the past four weeks.”

This definition does not seem to acknowledge the defining qualities of a gamer, particularly the frequency and duration of game time.

A game is a learning experience and this may be why children, with their instinct to learn, seem to be naturally motivated to play. For a game to exist there must be a set of rules within an environment or interface that can provide feedback and, of course, a controller with an objective, generally the goal of having fun or winning.

A child could just as easily go to a playground and have fun on their own, but reports about violence in the neighborhood can lead to parents wanting them safe indoors where they must resort to simulated play for stimulation.

For whatever reason, parents are sometimes afraid of what their children may be exposed to in this environment and seek to limit or prevent game time.

Video games are more likely to be subject to parental controls in the household than the Internet or other forms of media, like TV or movies.

The newest gaming consoles have controls that give parents, who purchase the majority of video games for their households, the ability to set locks on certain ratings from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

So, if the goal is to protect the child from exposure to violence, it is not fair that the video game industry should be made into a scapegoat any more than the Internet porn industry, movie, and TV industry, or even, the parents themselves.

Video games that have been hugely popular in the past were primarily multiplayer social experiences with simple themes of adventure or friendly competition.

And still, modern gaming is evolving more with an emphasis on social connectivity and intuitive controls.

While some game titles like shooter franchises Call of Duty and Halo, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft can take much longer to become accustomed to, or “good” enough to enjoy, the fact is not everybody is a “hardcore gamer”.

Nintendo products in particular have innovated to bring fun experiences to new audiences by integrating learning and playing in creative ways.

In 2009, Wii Sports surpassed the original Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as the best-selling video game of all time with nearly 80 million copies sold.

This game, and the Wii, spawned a motion capture gaming revolution that took the culture and shelves by storm, converting many unsuspecting adults to the Mario universe, as they could easily intuit controls and play along with their kids.

Studies like those done by Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), where primary school students increased their class math average by playing a Nintendo DS Brain Training game every day for ten weeks, reveal the positive influence that video games can have when children are allowed to associate gaming and learning.

The vast culture that has emerged out of this technology must be understood better by society and encouraged in further development, rather than ignored and marginalized.

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