Too often we hear that games are a complete waste of time; all children do is zone out in front of the television, right? While that may be what one sees when spying upon a child wielding a controller, it's obvious enough to anybody who actually plays games that there's more to our hobby than a time kill. A recent episode of the Daily Show w/ J.Stew clued me into the new book by Steven Johnson titled Everything Bad Is Good For You. For more insight, you can check out the interview on this page.
Without going into too much detail, the book does make some very interesting points about the complexity of not only current video games, but also other forms of popular culture. The short story is that the construction of media has grown increasingly sophisticated over the past few decades; non-linear narratives are the norm. Techniques that were suitable for avant-garde audiences are now used in mainstream programming. In reference to videogaming specifically, players are thrust into unknown environments or situations, and are then required to figure out what the hell they're supposed to be doing. Which buttons should I be pressing? What does this switch do? How the heck am I supposed to get up there?
We're not zoning out. We're at constant attention, always making decisions. So we're benefitting from gameplay, yes? That much has been clear for ages. I mean, sit a non-gamer down in front of your Playstation 2 and hand them the controller. The first thing they'll ask you is what they're supposed to do. Johnson puts it perfectly. "You're supposed to figure out what you're supposed to do."
There are cognitive muscles being exercised by our favorite medium; and it's often easy for people to disregard that fact because of the content of what we play. Sure, I wish there were more mature games out there for us to enjoy -- libraries and espionage, not flesh and bullets -- but I am constantly impressed by the increased complexity of the software being released every day. You know there's more to GTA than guns, drive-bys, and hookers, right? Hopefully, one day, our mothers and fathers will understand this, as well. Anyway, if you're looking for something to read, pick up a copy of Everything Bad... When you're through, send it over to your parents and give them a better understanding of why you do what you do.