This Gamespot news story piqued my attention. Not because of the usual argument over video games and their impact on the minds of children. I've been hearing that argument since I was a kid. I remember Mortal Monday, when the first Mortal Kombat was released for consoles. I was in the fifth grade if I remember correctly. Everyone was abuzz with excitement. Since I didn't own a Super Nintendo or a Genesis at that point, I used some left-over birthday money to buy that sucker for the original Game Boy. Good times. And nary a dead body in sight.
The quote that really got my attention was Senator Charles E. Schumer saying, "Little Johnny should be learning how to read, not how to kill cops."
Ignoring the fact that 25 to Life is obviously an adult-oriented game, and further ignoring the irony that Eidos executives must be jumping up and down in joy after the 6 o'clock news publicity Schumer has brought their game, I have to wonder at the wider assessment of video games that Schumer appears to be making. By comparing the actions in a video game against learning how to read, Schumer portrays video games as products devoid of any educational value. Which, to a guy who grew up with video games, is an even more troubling implication than the idea that crazy kids might copy what they see in games the same way crazy kids have copied everything for years.
And the more I think about it, the more I realize what video games did teach me.
This even goes beyond the Everything Bad is Good for You argument that the compexity of games help complex thought and strategic planning. I mean basic skills and concepts. I still believe that the early King's Quest and Zork games taught me to read and write, eventually leading me to become the English & American Literature major I am today. The Final Fantasy games proved so frustratingly esoteric to the prepubescent Mike that I taught myself the ins and outs of computers and networking just so I could find walkthroughs on the Internet, skills that later proved useful on a resume. Games such as Mario Paint taught me how to express myself and create video art long before I could take classes in Photoshop and Flash.
"Pish-pash," you say. "These are skills that were complemented by games, not fostered by them."
Really? If you grew up with games like me, try to think of all the various words and skills that you have learned due to the presence of electronic entertainment in your life.
"Fatality" is an obvious, if not somewhat self-defeating in this circumstance, word that comes to mind. Tiger portable games were teaching me what a Liquid Crystal Display was before it became common knowledge in the consumer market. Most gamers were well ahead of the curve as far as understanding computers and their various components. Hell, I know folks that learned Japanese just so they could import RPGs. If that's not devotion to self-education, I don't know what is.
And speaking of RPGs, I grew up with a complex mish-mash of Eastern and Western mythology in all those summon spells and monsters that are litered throughout those games. Couldn't you argue that they promote a background knowledge in classical literature? The original Doom represented various sci-fi renditions of classical demons and monsters. That's worth something.
Hell, even the recent Grand Theft Auto games reference political events and concepts of the time-frame they are set. Placing the recent San Andreas during the early 90s during the L.A. riots makes it socially significant beyond a secret sex code (thanks Kotaku). I would think that, if the game really gets a young, innocent, prelapserian child interested, then it also makes that child investigate the world of the game further. They might learn something about recent American history.
But maybe this is just me. Am I wrong? As a curious, unofficial poll, what new SAT words or useful skills did video games teach you folks? Have games taught you anything that makes you feel smarter or a better person? Any Trivial Pursuit questions answered correctly because of video games? To paraphrase Senator Schumer, can Johnny learn to read while shooting cops?