Video games are unproductive?

27 Jul

I’ve heard some people complain that video games are unproductive, a waste of time, rot your brain, etc… Usually these people never really played video games so they don’t understand the allure. To them the term “video games” probably evokes images of a child making Mario hop around a fantasy land doing abstract things that don’t really make sense. From that reference frame, yeah, watching somebody sit in front of a screen for hours doing something you imagine only children do would seem useless and unproductive.

A person like this might say “go read a book, because at least then you learn something.” Well, not all books are non-fiction. Would this person have the same objection to reading a fiction novel, be it romance, mystery, horror, etc? What about watching a movie? Even sports could be considered unproductive is this strain of “logic” is followed. The problem is, the person never really defines what “productive” is.

When asked they might say something like “cut the grass, or building furniture, or painting the fence”, or any number of errands or chores that need to be done. In effect, being productive is anything that achieves an end. In the case of the above listed activities, they are productive in the sense that they take care of things that need to get done. But what if those things are already done? What if the end goal you’re trying to achieve is relaxation, entertainment, enjoyment, or exploration? Well, in that case movies, books, and video games are very productive.

Another problem our hypothetical nay sayer has is that they don’t really understand what video games do. They look at video games in the most superficial sense; they only see colors and mindless motions. What they fail to realize is that the majority of video games are mentally engaging, more so than books or movies. Other types of media are passively consumed, video games on the other hand, require active participation. Often players encounter puzzles or challenges they must think their way through. It’s like the nay sayer’s morning crossword puzzle, but on steroids.

Take the Tomb Raider games for instance:

While on the surface these games might look like just a hot woman jumping around and shooting things, they are actual about puzzle solving. In each level the player must figure out what sequence of actions to complete in order to finish the level. It might require jumping, climbing, pull lever, and fending off an attacker. A player does all this to advance the next bit of story.

Take another genre game, the Real Time Strategy game:

While on the surface it might just look like mindless battles, Real Time Strategy games are all about mastering resource management. Players have to figure out how to gather and spend resources efficiently while trying to attack and fend off other players.

Even shooter games have a mental side to them. While they may just seem like games about shooting things, take Valve’s Half-life series for instance:

A large part of Valve’s Half life series is puzzle solving.  Players have to manipulate objects in order to proceed. In this picture the puzzle is a see-saw. The player has to move heavy blocks to one side of the plank in order to get up on the ledge.  But even some more action based shooters are not completely without mental challenge:

While these games are primarily about quick reactions and steady fingers, it is important to know what equipment is good against what and what weapons to use for various situations.

Our hypothetical naysayer might also feel that video games are very anti-social, that they lock people up in a room alone for hours on end. This might have been true in days before the internet, but it is no longer so. While there are plenty of games out there that are single player only, there is an ever growing list of games that are multi-player. Gaming is now a very social experience. Rock band is the classic example:

Get a bunch of friends together and rock out. The internet has turned games that might physically be played alone and made them social experiences. Any game with an online multiplayer option lets players connect from all over the world and play together. While I was playing Age of Empires 3, I would often get online, meet people, and play with them. We would do this often and some of us even became friends outside of the game, despite never meeting each other in real life. It was amazing; through the game I was able to interact with people from thousands of miles away, people who lived in different countries, spoke different languages, and yet we came together to relax and have some fun. But that’s not something our naysayer considers.

But perhaps the biggest allure to video games is the escape. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in another world for a while; but unlike a book or a movie, or anything else you passively consume, video games allow you to take an active role in that other world, shaping it, living in it. They let you engage with that world in a way nothing else can. (except for perhaps for roleplaying games) They also give you the satisfaction of instant results. You see immediately if what you’re doing works or does not. You get the feeling of importance, or making a difference, of being somebody special. Yeah it’s an illusion, but at the end of the day it’s a great escape from life as usual.

3 Responses to “Video games are unproductive?”

  1. Smokey King July 31, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    This is really great content. Thanks a lot for this. I put it on my website where you can also find latest video game and technology news and reviews . I linked back to your site and bookmarked it so I can see your new posts

  2. Adult March 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Everything has an outcome or consequence, when people confront video games being unproductive, they refer to it’s value of benefit. Playing with a controller and a screen will gain me better coordination in that category, but I don’t value that as much as being stronger and experienced in sports and other physical activity.


  1. Synapse Design Blog » Blog Archive » Enjoyable Work - July 28, 2010

    […] Paladin has a post up about how video games are NOT unproductive pursuits. I actually disagree, despite being an avid video game consumer for nearly 2 […]

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