Video games: Saving lives, soothing depression, tickling brains and quieting the nag (since 1972)


Gamers behind the Mario Kart wheel. Photo by Flickr user RonaldWong.

In the arcade, being gay simply didn’t matter; it wasn’t a place of sex or relationships, so it didn’t matter that I was wanting to be romantically involved with guys as opposed to girls. All that mattered there were good matches and getting better.

So I did.

And that saved me from my desire to die. While I was improving myself in the arcade, either with Guilty Gear or at home with Smash (and my local train station had a gc with smash set up in front of it to attract customers to the game shop there). My time out of school was mostly dedicated to improving myself.

This may sound sad, spending so much time fixated on games. But at the time I was so depressed it was hard to hang around people. So what did this fixation do for me? It occupied my mind. During those days I started considering how to improve my ky or Bridget in GG, how to improve my use of Link’s Boomerang usage and so on. It stopped me thinking about death all the time. It saved me from going insane.

— Rowan Carmichael, How Games Saved My Life

Ashly Burch (blogger at Hey, Ash, Whatcha Playin’?) created How Games Saved My Life last month as a way to gather stories from gamers that show video games’ positive side. Already, she’s collected dozens of stories and she’s poised to attract many more, now that she’s gained attention from sites like Kotaku and Ars Technica.

I heard many similar stories while conducting interviews for Backward Messages. Perhaps not every gamer has such a story, but I suspect many, if not most, do. These aren’t stories that many kids share with their parents — these stories remain especially hidden when the parent/child relationship is most fractured, and this is when kids most need games as an outlet. Fellow gamers and parents can come to a site like this, browse around, and hear something similar to what their own child might be too shy or scared to talk about.

These stories are powerful. Beyond that, they reveal an incredible amount of self-awareness — a self-awareness many adults do not give kids credit for possessing. Those who would try to keep video games, including violent games, out of the hands of minors on the grounds that they are too violent make the assumption that kids who love these games are a blank slate, not considering what they’re playing. On the contrary, kids seek these games out like medicine. They know what they need, and know they are healed by it. And we need to listen to them.

Burch’s site comes at a time when the news wires have been jumping with reports about video games. For example, TodaysTHV.com, a news station in Arkansas, recently reported, “Study links teen depression risk to hours spent with online media.” Look at that, and then look at Rowan’s story. Then check out this quote from one of the study’s authors, Erick Messias:

“We need to do a better job of understanding how the Internet and video games, whether violent or not, affect young people. For many, the Internet and video games are the only form of social interaction they have; they are their primary source of communication,” says Messias. “We fully don’t understand the consequences of this kind of stimulation, but we hope this work will lead to improving the screening process in adolescents.”

Correlation is not causation. Teens turn to video games as a source of solace from problems, including depression. The video games aren’t the problem — they’re part of a coping strategy, even a recovery process. That’s what needs studying.

Over at Forbes, blogger David M. Ewalt posits, “Do Video Games Make You Smarter? Maybe Not.” In it, he analyzes a new study that questions prior research showing that video games improve mental acuity and performance. One problem with such studies, he says, is, “gamers perform better on cognitive tests because they’ve heard that gamers perform better on cognitive tests.” Well, true. This is a complicated issue, to be sure — and games have many benefits beyond what’s shown in scientific tests.

Amusingly, the Deseret News recently reported that “Negative, nagging parents cause kids to play video games more, not less.” No ironies there; of course kids who feel henpecked, particularly over their favorite pastimes, are going to turn to those pastimes as an escape. Actual dialogue about specific video games and their appeal to a child is always going to be more effective.

Readers, did a video game save your life, or the life of someone you know? Share stories in the comments.

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