Sunday, March 29, 2015

What Is The Game Effect?

Image from Wikipedia. A cool game in 2000.
What do video games “mean?”

As a media industry, video games are huge. According to the text my media class is using—“Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture” 8th edition by Stanley Baran—more than 200 million Americans are video game players.

I suppose I’m one of the 200 million, but in a minimal way. When bored, I may play solitaire on the computer, now and then. I have never been in an online, multiplayer game, nor have I played any of the vivid, violent video games that have caused so much controversy.

My own gaming roots are pretty modest. I do recall being a bit curious about pinball and other arcade games as a tween and teen, but I never got into that scene much. A quarter was too precious to spend that way, back in the day. I did enjoy a few games of pinball, and do recall how cool the original “pong” seemed when it appeared way back in the day—but again, I didn’t play it much.

Partly, it was the price, but partly it was skill, or a lack of it. Some kids joined the band because they were good at music. Some kids hung out at the arcade because they had the eye-wrist coordination to win free games on a fairly regular basis. Me, I stayed at home, watched reruns of Stat Trek and read short novels.

From screen.
In the 1980s, when I was a small town newspaper reporter in Boonville, Missouri, the young men on the Daily News staff used to sometimes take longer lunches than they should have so that they could hang out at a local dive diner that had a video game machine. It was called “Zaxxon,” and was briefly all the rage. Again, while I confess I wasted a few precious mid-day hours there, playing that game was never one of my main pastimes.

My own minor game flings came later, after the age of the personal computer when you could play without having to spend quarters at an arcade or diner for the pleasure.

There were two games that were briefly popular for me in the PC era. The first came when one of my wife’s sisters gave us an old Mac SE computer that she didn’t want anymore. It had a game called “Crystal Quest” on it, and both my wife and I were hooked for a while. It was black and white, the sounds were strange and silly, and the goal never made much sense—but the game was oddly entrancing.

From, "Crystal Quest." Ahhhhh.
 Later, early in the current century, there was a brief fling with an action-adventure PC game called “Crimson Skies.”

That, and Flight Simulator, were fun. But Crimson Skies came to an end—there wasn’t much point once you were done with the final mission.

I can’t say that video games were very for me in my formative years. I guess I’m part of the pre-VG generation. I know that there is cultural anxiety about video games—and there is probably reason for concern, given the violent and sexist nature of a lot of game content. But, besides a lack of first-person experience, I think one reason it’s hard for me to generalize about the huge video game industry is that it’s such a diverse medium. From faux bowling with a Wii to on-line quests in Worlds of Warcraft, gaming itself seems like an amorphous concept.

So I’ll be looking for some insight from my students, who are more likely to be children of the video game era. What does gaming mean? Is it a harmless diversion? Does it threaten morals and social skills? When games get good enough and real enough, will we disappear into them and leave this nasty, brutish world behind? Does gaming rob us of skills we’ll need when the zombie apocalypse hits, or are we quietly building technical skills that will make us all computer ninjas?

What do you think?


  1. I think the children of today are the most likely to be known as the children of the video game era. When I was growing up, I played outside, worked on the farm, and did not even watch TV during the summer time. I also didn't get a cell phone until the eighth grade. Now, it seems as if as soon as a kid hits the young age of 2 they have an ipad in their hands. This may be due to parenting and all the learning apps avaliable for young kids, but this is all these kids are going to grow up with. I don't think this allows them to build technical skills or social skills and thus may limit their success in the future.

  2. As harmless as I believe video games are, if not enjoyed in moderation anything can be dangerous. As stimulating video games are to the brain, being to attached to them could definitely effect socialability.