Lessons Learned from Video Games That Make Us Better People

If you’re even the most casual of gamers, there’s been that moment when you were minding your own business and just playing a video game and someone walks up to you, sees you sprawled on the couch with Cheeto stains all over you, and starts lecturing you on how you’re wasting your life and how you should start dealing with the “real world”. And, if you’re like me, you might have wanted to throw the controller at them.

First off, two things: (1) Never EVER throw the controller at someone. Even if it’s the bad controller that you give to your kid brother when he wants to “play” and you need to calm him down. And (2) the people looking down on you are wrong. The assumption that you learn nothing from video games—there’s nothing farther from the truth. Apparently, we learn more while playing video games than while dealing with assholes who look down on us, we just need to realize that fact and thank the video game gods for it.

So, to all the gamers out there who think they are a bane to society, go wipe your Cheeto-stained hands off and read on. It’s time you found out how we’re going to conquer the world.

Timing

Do I really need to explain this? Really? Oh well.

Think old-school Prince of Persia. There’s a set of snapping blades right in front of you, covered with the blood of those who have failed to pass. If you remember this game, then you remember that for the majority of this level, you’re taking two steps forward to escape the first set of blades, then taking a step back to avoid the next one. Then rinse and repeat, in very quick succession.

This is what we call the guillotine obstacle. These are usually blades, or blocks, or even sets of doors that you’d have to go through using a perfectly timed sprint. You can see this in Super Mario Bros., in Ocarina of Time, etc. So what does this teach us? Plenty, actually. The whole world is an obstacle course that can only be finished, for the most part, with good timing. For example, main thoroughfares in cities have stoplights that are synchronized to keep you under a certain speed. Idiots (or, well, normal people) would keep driving and stopping, driving and stopping at each light. But once you, the gamer, have identified the pattern, you can easily breeze through the lights using your timing skill.

Nice, huh?

Organization

If you’re looking for a skill that is most ingrained in a lot of gamers, look no further than organization. This skill can be learned from almost every game genre ever invented, but none is most obvious (and as old) as Tetris. 

If you’ve ever played Tetris, either the old one on your own handheld platform or the new, more competitive one on Facebook, you’d know that it is not easy to be organized but it is something that is drilled into you again and again after every game until it becomes part of you, a training module surpassed only by those who have OCD or possibly the Third Reich or the North Koreans. And it’s not only found in arcade or puzzle games like Tetris, as I’ve mentioned before. If you’ve played Resident Evil 4, for example, you’d remember the need to keep your attache case organized. This is a game about shooting off faces of undead hordes but it still finds time to stop you and say, organize your shit or you die. 

Now that’s what I call incentivized training. And when you’re out in the “real world” with this skill in you, you’d always win. Because there’s no better motivation than thinking that a poorly-packed suitcase will mean the undead feasting on innards ripped from inside you.

Interior Design

There are two ways through which you could learn interior design in video games. One way, and arguably the most obvious, is through games where you’re actually asked to design stuff, like the entire The Sims franchise, or Roller Coaster Tycoon, or Sim City. In these games, you spend roughly two-thirds of your time clicking sofas or end tables and rotating them 90 degrees, or thinking up the best way to surround your city or theme park with roads or whatever. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The second way, of course, is through block puzzles–a staple of every video game. As some gamers might say, the block puzzle is the cornerstone of gaming, and it is found in almost every game from Zelda to Tomb Raider. 

In every incarnation of Tomb Raider there’s a part where you’d have to push stone blocks or get them on certain pressure pads to open certain doors. It’s the same for a lot of other games. You have to rotate the sun disk to lower the water pressure so you can reach the lever that would open the bay doors so you can push the block in and activate the pressure pad so you can open the door. But only once you rotate it 90 degrees. Or something.

And how helpful is this in real life, you ask? I address this to all the non-gamer girls out there. What can avid gamers bring to the table that an average non-gamer can’t? Just wait until moving day. While your average non-gamer (no matter how ripped or socially-adjusted he seems) will be cursing an uncaring God outside while revving up a chainsaw because he can’t fit an eight-foot sofa through a three-foot door, the gamer is already inside handing you an iced tea while you relax on the sofa that’s been brought inside and arranged perfectly to ensure optimal flow of movement.

Beat that, sucker.

Prioritization

If you’ve ever played an RPG, be it a MMO or the massively-underrated offline RPGs of the the past, you’d know how to prioritize your quests. A player in an RPG receives buttloads of quests, and it is up to him (or her, or it) to prioritize those quests depending on a variety of things. He could choose to do a quest because the milestones or goals of that quest are nearer to him geographically. Or he can choose to do a quest because the rewards are greater. Or he can choose to do a side quest first before focusing on the main quest because sometimes when you finish a main quest, the game doesn’t care about the side quests and just dumps them, which results in wasted xp and items.

Anyone who says gamers can’t make good decisions can go take a hike.

This skill is very helpful in real life because, as in video games, you are not given one quest at a time. The world won’t wait for you to finish a quest or reach a goal before handing you another one. That’s spoonfeeding, and everyone looks down on that. Even gamers. Especially gamers. So, in real life as in video games, it’s important to prioritize–to identify what’s important to you, what you want to achieve first. And gamers have a lot of experience in that area.

Resource Management

In the game world, resource management is a skill that you either have or you don’t. If you don’t have it, then you’re the dude who buys a machine gun at the start of a Counter Strike round. It fires a lot of bullets fast and it looks cool, but it also wastes a lot of bullets and is not very accurate. You might also be the dude who throws grenades willy-nilly. That means you’re the kind of dude who dies first because (1) you’re an idiot, and (2) you’re out of ammo and you can’t fight an assault rifle with a knife.

“Those idiots would have to fight the invaders themselves, okay? I’m busy alphabetizing my potions.”

In FPS games, you’d have to carefully keep track of your ammunition because you do not want to run out while firing at campers stacked one on top of the other. In RTS games, you need to keep track of actual resources like gold, wood, fuel, manpower, etc. If you run out of these, you can’t erect buildings or train new troops. In RPGs, you’re dealing with your inventory. We’re talking about your potions, your antidotes, your revives, your weapons, your stamina kits, medpacs, etc. RPG players would know that most of the player’s time is spent shopping, or organizing your own inventory just so you’d have the right kind of potion connected to the right key for the right boss battle.

And in every RPG, players encounter the same problem: there will always be that item that’s too powerful, that’s too rare to ever use. So what do you do with it? You keep it. Hidden. Safe. Forever.

This is a realization and a strategy that every sane gamer out there has made. If you’ve never finished Left 4 Dead or any similar game without an untouched First Aid Kit, or never finished Pokemon without still clutching a Masterball, then you were either very drunk  or you were dropped on your head when you were a kid.

So how is this helpful in real life? Easy, just apply that ‘this is rare and powerful I should hide it forever’ thinking to your savings account. Think that every paycheck that you receive is a Megalixir or a Masterball and just hide it, because eventually there’s going to be a boss out there that’d be too tough for you to beat and you’re going to need all the help you can get. And if you end up not using it, congratulations. That means you were too good in life to even need it. You have just unlocked the Comfortable Retirement Achievement.

Basic Morality

As you might have noticed, there is now a proliferation of open-world games. These are video games that have evolved from the linear storytelling from the past, where there is only one possible ending and you’re heading straight for it. In open-world video games, you can choose what your ending is by being nice or being a douche in every conversation. But these open-world games are not as open as they might seem, because all of them have one inherent lesson: never, ever, choose evil.

While you’re playing these games, it might seem like you have the ability to choose evil. That’s a lie. Well, yeah, you can, but that would result in a really shitty gameplay. Fallout, Mass Effect, Oblivion: all of these games present you with a choice. You can either be good or evil. It’s up to you. Totally. But it’s a fucking trap. And you should know better by now.

A good example of this would be Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for two reasons: (1) it shows you exactly where you are on the light side-dark side spectrum, and (2) I just finished playing it again and I think it’s awesome. If you choose to follow the light as a Jedi, you and your party will end up saving the galaxy and killing the Sith Lord. If you choose the dark side and become a part of the Sith, you’ll end up losing half your party (plus a scene where a Wookie kills a Twi’lek girl–both members of your party–then turns on you when you least expect it) and you’ll turn into a pale Sith Lord like Pope Benedict.

In Fallout: New Vegas, you can be either good or evil. If you’re good, you get to keep the sassy lesbian who can make people explode by punching them, the super-sniper, and the ruggedly-handsome doctor with the powerful robot suit. If you go evil, you’d either lose or kill all three, and end up with the shittiest party members in all of creation. In short, being good makes the gameplay better: it will net you better companions, more interesting quests, and ultimately, a more satisfying story. So it boils down to one thing. Even when it’s a choice, it’s never a choice: good is always better.

So when people tell you that video games make you bad, tell them to suck it as you save box after box of cute little lost kittens.

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