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I’m either at the tail end of Generation X or an old-as-dirt Millennial, depending on who is doing the judgmental labeling that particular day, which means that when I use social calculus to combine the words “parent” and “video games” I get equations like “Video games are a waste of time,” “Go outside and play, and get some fresh air before you turn into humpty dumpty” (that one is verbatim; I still don’t know what it means), “Video games will rot your brain” and “Don’t sit so close to the television, you’ll go blind.”

While gaming culture has definitely expanded in the new century, and while just about everyone in the world games one way or another, there is still a stigma associated with gaming. And there are myriad examples of people taking their gaming too far (habit-forming can turn into addiction no matter what it is), but it’s those extreme negative examples that casuals use as a brush to paint the entire concept of video games. It’s still easy to label gamers as “losers” or “basement dwellers,” as if because there was once an article of a man who died playing too much World of Warcraft that it means my occasional desire to play Castle Crashers with friends or spend one week a year immersed in a major tentpole game makes me somehow deficient in our society. Especially with older folks, it’s easy to deride something one doesn’t understand and to decree it a bad thing. After all, video games are a luxury, and because a person only had a stick and a hoop to play with growing up (and they turned out just fine) video games must be only superfluous, only ever a waste of time, only ever something for children.

Like comics, video games are seen as childish by the people that don’t understand that the medium has evolved into something artistic and fulfilling on a level similar to a good book or an Oscar-bait movie. But if you really want to make an argument for why folks shouldn’t so readily dismiss games, your best move might be to talk about how video games have saved lives.

DrNew

I want my doctor to be a monster at Call of Duty or a local pub champion of the annual “Tetris at the Pub” competition.

There have been plenty of studies linked to video games improving hand-eye coordination, but one of the most impressive is this: a study showcased, among other places, in the New York Times, concluded that surgeons who played video games for at least three hours a week were 27 percent faster and made 37 percent fewer mistakes than the surgeons that didn’t. So sign me up to go under the knife with Dougie Houser, and not just because Neil Patrick Harris is adorable at any age, but because I want my doctor to be a monster at Call of Duty or a local pub champion of the annual “Tetris at the Pub” competition. There aren’t very many things in this world that utilize your hands, eyes, brain and reaction times in quite the same way as video games, and with those kind of numbers, you’d be hardpressed to argue that, at least on a tertiary level, video games have been responsible for saving some lives. I’d also prefer surgeons who spend at least some time blowing off steam by blowing up aliens, and I like my doctors as stress free as possible (and a healthy mistrust of extraterrestrials is a bonus in my eyes, as long as they’re not all David Icke-y about it).

Video Games Saving Lives in Cars

Speaking of reaction times and hand-eye coordination, there are also stories of kids saving lives from skills they’d learned from the video games our mothers warned us about. An 11-year-old boy in Ireland saved lives when his grandfather blacked out while driving at over 70 miles per hour. The only experience he’d had with this type of situation was from playing Grand Theft Auto, but it allowed him to keep a level head and grab the wheel. There was still an accident, and they were both hurt, but if the kid hadn’t possessed enough confidence from gaming to react well, they both surely would have suffered far worse.

And don’t worry, parents: these life-saving abilities can be gained from games other than prostitute-laden murder simulators. When a 10-year-old in Colorado witnessed his great-grandmother suffer a heart attack, it was Mario Kart that allowed him to save the day. “I could see over the dashboard while driving, so I had an idea of where I was driving into,” says the pretty articulate kid. “I couldn’t get to the breaks because my Grandma Great was in the way.” Setting aside how we should all call our great-grandmothers “Grandmas Great” because that’s amazing, he managed to keep control of the car until her foot slipped off the pedal and they rolled to a stop. Grandma Great is still alive, and Grandson Great is the hero of the hour. Thanks, Mario.

"Here’s the story of a 12-year old who used “Feign Death” to save himself from a moose?"
“Here’s the story of a 12-year old who used “Feign Death” to save himself from a moose?”

It’s not just children that benefit from the tense but simulated scenarios in video games. A man in Ontario credits “all those years playing video games as a kid” to his narrow escape when a semi blew through a barrier into oncoming traffic (you can see video from the dashcam here). And a blogger railed against Blagojevich’s ill-fated anti-gaming legislation by crediting Grand Theft auto as the best education course in the world for driving (and for saving his tuckus by hammering into his head when to use the emergency break while in a sticky situation).

Non-Vehicular Life Saving

Oh, but you say you’re not impressed with quick reaction times for mitigating car accidents? Fair enough, Captain Cynic, there are lots of near misses (or to invoke Papa Carlin, may he rest in peace, “near hits”). So how about a man in North Carolina jumping to the rescue after he saw a car crash? He saw an SUV flip over, and credits America’s Army as his training for the situation. He pulled a passenger out of the smoking car and dressed a wound of another accident victim. He knew how to use a towel for that purpose, and how to lessen blood flow long enough to check out the man’s other injuries. So there you have it: not only can video games make real doctors better at their job, it can also manufacture impromptu field medics in a pinch. Thanks, Mario. No wait that doesn’t apply. Still, Mario is cool, so sure let’s just give him credit again.

Or let us leave vehicular anecdotal altogether. Here’s the story of a 12-year old who used “Feign Death” to save himself from a moose. “Just like you learn at level 30 in World of Warcraft.” Yeah, like A-moøse ønce-bit-my-sister moose. Honestly there’s not much to say about that, other than: amazing.

Even more impressive than these (even if you can’t make a Monty Python reference out of it) is the story of Jane McGonial. You should read the article, which also contains links to studies that show games can basically make every aspect of our lives better, but those all service her actual story, her mild traumatic brain injury. She invented a game herself, sort of an app to overlay on your real life, and it can be used for brain trauma help but also anything from losing weight and getting in shape to finding a job to fighting depression.

The impact of Video Games on Our Lives

Like any art, from a certain perspective a video game is just a tool. Sure, it’s more ephemeral than a hammer, but so is a book; and it may be flashier than a book and therefore easier to discount (if you’re still being Captain Cynic over there). But tools are tools, and can be used for good things or bad things. Of course you can waste your time playing Candy Crush or Fairway when you should be getting those reports done by Friday; you can also use a hammer to knock down a building (if you’re really determined and have a lot of time and a big enough hammer—I could have used a better metaphor but there’s no going back now, and anyway you’re now envisioning someone taking down a whole building with a tool they fished out of the junk drawer in the kitchen). Using a hammer for destruction is not using that tool for its intended purpose, however, and neither is shirking responsibilities to play video games. Games can entertain, enlighten, inform, and as Ms. McGonial (must not reference Harry Potter, must not reference Harry Potter) proves, we can even craft games ourselves to improve our daily lives in measureable ways.

“There are countless stories about WoWers that ended up married after meeting on the game, or who count their closest friends as people they met online.”

We also shouldn’t discount the impact video games can have on the lives of introverts and disabled individuals. (Note: as an introvert I am certainly not saying introversion is a disability, they just have “homebound” as a characteristic in common sometimes.) For people that for any reason have a hard time leaving the house, video games provide a social alternative in the form of other worlds in which people can interact with others. There are countless stories about WoWers that ended up married after meeting on the game, or who count their closest friends as people they met online. There’s also this amazing story, about a man with muscular dystrophy, who was at home when a housefire broke out while he was too far away from his phone. He was, however, in a chatroom for one of his favorite games Evony. He told his online peers of his predicament, and folks from Indiana to Texas called into the Spokane fire department to make sure he was safe. This speaks of the amazing ways technology has brought us together, but it also shows what caring people gamers are; not the isolated, angry losers we accept as reality instead of a silly meme perpetrated by the normies that don’t get it, but souls who will take care of one another.

Of course, Captain Cynic says, these are all extreme examples and by no means commonplace. And while I’m sure extensive research could show that these types of situations actually occur all the time, one final aspect of gaming should be mentioned here, and it’s easiest to pull from my own life for this one. I’ve never used video game skills to save anyone from a burning building, or avoid a car accident, or save someone from a remote location, but video games have definitely saved my life. They have done so, moreover, simply by being utilized for their intended use.

How Video Games Saved My Life

It’s not as glamorous as taking the wheel or as awesome as faking death in front of a moose, and at first blush it seems self-indulgent to mention, but it’s more immediate to a lot of us, I think: I was in love, and I got my little heart broken. This was a bad one, one that changed everything for me, and even now there’s a crack in the earth of my life that separates the before and after of it. I know this could be substituted for having a death in the family of a close relative or being laid off. Emotional devastation can be a real, terrifying thing. Honestly I couldn’t function. I was drowning. And in the face of an overwhelming tsunami of despair, I buried myself into a video game. It was a random choice, Assassin’s Creed 4, and it wasn’t a game I particularly loved, not one I’ll play again, a game whose sequels I’m not terribly interested in and it’s not something I’d passionately recommend. But for that two weeks or so, I played the hell out of that game.

"When a 10-year-old in Colorado witnessed his great-grandmother suffer a heart attack, it was Mario Kart that allowed him to save the day."
“When a 10-year-old in Colorado witnessed his great-grandmother suffer a heart attack, it was Mario Kart that allowed him to save the day.”

At a certain point in the story you gain control of your own pirate ship. You sail the open seas looking for other ships (from merchant vessels to man-o’-wars) to raid and pillage. And in the open stretches of ocean between encounters, with nothing but ocean and different weather patterns before you, your crew sings beautiful sailing songs with call-and-answer melodies, and it was one of the most soothing experiences of my life.

The video game didn’t solve my problems, but it did provide a salve for a wound too fresh to touch. It really helped; I got lost in a world that was not my own, which is the very reason I started reading books and writing my own. It was just an escape to a reality where my problems didn’t exist, and for a few minutes at a time (and then a few half-hours at a time, and then a few hours at a time) I didn’t have to think about my own mess. (After I finished that, I played Fallout: New Vegas again, because shut up don’t judge me.) And when I was done with gaming, I had time and space and distance from my first-world-problems trauma. Not enough to be okay, but enough to start healing correctly. For truth, dear readers, it was bad enough that books and exercise and television and whatever else didn’t cut it, and without video games, I might have spiraled into a depression I don’t like to think about even now. Those games, just existing in their natural state, saved my life I believe. In moments like it that will surely occur in my future, I’m sure I will turn to games again; even as a not-hardcore non-daily gamer, I have a love for the format that is forever mixed with gratitude.

That’s what video games can do for you. They can also let you use your Nintendo DS’s screen like a flashlight to free your mom after a car accident and be allowed to play your games whenever you want for life because of it. And Feign Death in front of moose.

Thanks Mario. You’re the man.

Artwork by Heath Cecere

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