From my first Xbox to my current PC, I have been actively playing games for most of my life. But it wasn’t until about a year or two ago that I started to think more critically about the games I play and how they impact me on a daily basis.
Video games aren’t just a fun time-waster for me anymore. I love playing video games just as much as reading a great book or watching an amazing film. But the thing about a game is that, instead of simply watching the characters progress through the story and make choices, I am the character. This incredible development blew my 8-year-old mind away when I played my first role-playing game (RPG). For the first time, I was really thinking about the choices I was making in that virtual world. Should I work hard and have my character be a good person, or choose the easy way out and succumb to evil?
Finishing that first RPG had me hooked on gaming for life. I was so excited about what the world of gaming could offer me next. The twists and turns that unfolded while playing through the story were so much more incredible because it was a game. I firmly believe that if that same exact story had been in a book, and the main character had made all the same choices that I did, it still wouldn’t have carried the same weight. If you’re still skeptical about the idea, ask your child about the story in their game. What kind of decisions are they making? Make your child think more critically about what they’re doing in that game world.
Now, while I love RPGs and usually play them privately with no distractions, I also game all the time with friends. Before I got into computer gaming, my best friend and his brother would come over and we’d all crowd around our Xbox to play a game of Halo. This wasn’t only a bit of fun to entertain us; it taught us how to work together to reach goals. Our older brothers would always be on a team against my friend and me, so we had to get creative about how we’d defeat them. We’d lure them to an ambush, sabotage their vehicles, do anything we could to get the upper hand. Playing those games taught us how to think outside the box and not to just go for the easiest way to complete the task. However, it also taught us something far more important: how to lose.
Even with all our little tricks, our brothers would often beat us. But we were losing in a safe environment. Failure in that gaming world didn’t mean anything besides our brothers bragging for the rest of the night. However, with that failure, my friend and I steadily became more accepting of failure. We adopted the mindset of, “Well, that didn’t work. What if we tried this?” No longer were we losing and just giving up. Every failure was a learning experience, something that told us it was OK to not always be number one.
What I learned from playing—and losing—Halo has carried over into other aspects of my life today. I feel like I can take more risks. I’m willing to try out for varsity sports teams and apply for bigger jobs for the summer. I don’t fear rejection as much as many of my non-gaming peers do. It’s a big help both personally and academically.
Today, I can get more of that experience because I can play games online with my friends. Sometimes we play shooters like Halo, although we also might play strategy games that test more of our tactical thinking than our reaction times. Thinking critically about the games I’m playing has led me to tons of great things. I’ve made connections with people all over the world—from Denmark to Australia—from playing games online. I’ve been able to sit down and discuss the themes of a game with my friends. Gaming is undoubtedly a positive experience for me.