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Thursday, July 01, 2004
RECONSIDERING PAC MAN


Here is an article I wrote a couple of years ago basically taking the position that video game playing is an irredeemable addiction. I got a thoughtful dissenting message the other day from blog reader, Rob, who wanted to offer a different take. I reprint his message here for two reasons: A) to help get at the truth about this new technology, and, B) as an example of what respectful discursive looks like.

"...I just came across your article, "Video Game Culture: A Harmless Addiction?" -- now, it's not that I completely disagree with all that you've said, but I thought I'd like to write and offer a point of view you didn't seem to consider when you said, "Video games produce nothing... video games teach nothing."

I would argue that on the contrary, in our modern world, computer game skill can perhaps be compared to "hunting and gathering" skills of old -- archery practice served a valuable purpose, for example, in mediaeval times. Video games, in our modern times, can likewise be the beginning of training in important life skills. We live in a progressively more computerized and "information"-based society (like it or not), and a young person without any kind of computer skills is definitely at a disadvantage in many careers... even car mechanics, today, need to be computer whizzes!

If you ask me, the first (and perhaps most important) lesson that a young person learns from video games is this: not to be afraid of computers. If you've ever worked with a middle-aged person, trying to teach them how to use Windows for the first time, you know how hard it is for them because they are so afraid of "clicking the wrong thing." Sometimes it's like they just have this block. (I can't count how many times I have heard someone tell me, "I'm afraid that if I click the wrong thing, it'll all be deleted!") Computer games, however, tend to encourage and reward such experimentation. They show that the computer isn't just some scary data-crunching monster, but a tool that can be used for recreation, as well as productivity. My three and four year-olds, thanks to some great Disney preschool games, are more adept with a mouse and less afraid of computers than many people I work with in my office!

Of course, there are those who would say that gaming has other benefits as well; here's an interesting article:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/05/06/1083635268977.html?from=storyrhs

So, I feel your conclusion is far too harsh. Sure, games can be an addictive "escape" from the problems of real life -- but the same can be said about just about anything. You suggest that learning sports would be a better activity for children, but I know many more fathers who neglect their family to pursue their interests in sports than I do that neglect their family to play video games. (And here in Canada, the sport to play is hockey -- and how can we talk about violent video games when real-life hockey violence is so real and tangible and applauded and cheered while our children watch and play it?) "All things in moderation," of course, and computer games are no exception to the rule.

And, like any other form of entertainment, not all games are created equal: what if we wrote off all films and novels because some people make pornography? Perhaps your Caesar game teaches you "nothing that applies to the broader world as in 'real' experience," but many games have rich stories, deeper plots, and are more than just strategy -- Role Playing Games like Ultima or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic offer much more immersive stories that Real-Time Strategy games like Caesar (I know, I know: RPG = D&D = Evil... ) Just as you can't really compare a film like Kill Bill with The Passion of the Christ (at least not with a straight face), it's not fair to assume all games are like Caesar or Mario Bros. And if immersive storytelling has no inherent value and "produces nothing," then neither do fiction movies or books.

But if I take it a step further -- and if I may be so bold to say this without insulting you -- your statements are possibly irresponsible, coming from a champion of Catholic screenwriting such as yourself. As you yourself pointed out, games are now bigger than Hollywood -- so, we can't just say, "they're useless and/or evil," because obviously, they are too much of a force to be reckoned with. I believe it would be irresponsible for us as Christians to just ignore -- or worse, run and hide from -- computer games. And yet, as far as I can tell, that's exactly what Christians have done... (the only Christian-themed games I've seen are vapid cannibalizations of the exact sort of violent games we claim to reject... Why do they make "Christian" video games like Doom, instead of like, say, Blue's Clues Preschool...?)

I believe, very strongly, that the computer game industry is just as much in need of initiatives like your own Act One organization and Church of the Masses blog. Perhaps, arguably, even more in need of it... because, frankly, computer games look to be the future of the entertainment industry in the coming generations. So, just to get on your nerves , I'm going to pray that Act One begins to find room to include writers of computer games (who are increasingly mingling with Hollywood) under its organizational umbrella... whether you like it or not. ;)

God bless, and thanks again for your wonderful blog.... "

Thanks, Rob!