Video Games: Brain Rotting or Brain Candy?

As a child of the 80s, video games were introduced to me at an early age. Like most boys of the Masters of the Universe era, I was immediately consumed by the glowing electronic display of goodness! From the first time I picked up that controller and played Donkey Kong nearly 30 years ago, I’ve been addicted to the allure and splendor of video games. Don’t you roll your eyes at me! I see that permanent fingerprint seared into your smart phone screen from hours of Angry Birds and Tetris!

There’s no question that video games have become an acceptable form of entertainment for all ages in this modern era, but there still remains a large percentage of people that believe these games are damaging to our mental development. Is that true? Though I don’t deem myself qualified enough to answer that question definitively, it is a subject that I have a wealth of personal experience with and I’d like to plead my case based solely upon that.

One of the biggest arguments I hear against gaming is the belief that playing video games stagnates your mind. Even my own mother used to tell me as a kid that playing all those video games would rot my brain. For the time being, we’ll temporarily ignore the fact that she is hopelessly addicted to Café World. When I hear this argument however, I can only imagine that it depends heavily on the existing mental state of the person in question. For example, as a gamer of nearly 30 years, I’m doing my most creative work ever now as an adult. While I would freely admit that a fascination with video games did prevent me from handing in all of my homework assignments throughout school, I would strongly disagree that it diminished my brain’s potential.

For example, back in the early days of Atari and Nintendo, developers didn’t feel the need to create a deep back story to accompany the gameplay. It was a simple matter of constructing eye-to-hand coordination and dexterity challenges. Did we care why a hungry yellow sphere ate pellets while being chased by ghosts? Did we care why a suicidal frog felt the need to cross the busiest 10-lane freeway in the city? The developers didn’t think so, but you know who did? I did. I thought it was fun to name the characters and create little back stories to explain the events that I was witnessing. While just simply knowing that the princess was in another castle was suffice to most gamers, I always wondered who gave Mario the bad intel and why. In my mind, Toad was a double agent working on behalf of King Koopa and purposely misleading Mario all around the Mushroom Kingdom. However, because good always wins over evil, Mario eventually finds his way and rescues the princess after the final showdown. Then… PLOT TWIST… King Koopa wasn’t really the mastermind behind the abduction and the princess is still not safe. MUWA-HA-HA-HA!

By now you’ve probably already deduced that I am a giant nerd. Guilty. This practice stayed with me through most of my adolescent years until the video game industry changed and one day the art of creating stories for the player to sink their teeth into became the status quo. They were primitive at first, but have since evolved into complex tales of twisting paths and rich character development. In fact, it’s extremely common now days to hear stories of couples playing games together so that both can experience the story while only one of them actually plays. It’s no longer sacrilege to say that video games are like interactive books, because some of them truly are. Companies like BioWare and Rockstar Games are continually generating some of the most compelling examples of this. Video games can now make people laugh out loud, or express remorse or sympathy caused by the trials endured by the characters, and in some cases, even shed tears. You Final Fantasy VII veterans know what I’m talking about.

While writing my first book, Noble, the video game BioShock was a huge influence on me. The developers hadn’t only crafted a clever story of mystery and thrills, but also created an inviting alternate 1940s era that was so full of charm and character, that it only made it that much more intense when you were thrust into the dystopian nightmare within. Even now I still get chills when I think about the spiraling downward staircase that was the game’s plot. It was full of more “AH HA!” moments and payoffs than most modern day television shows and movies. As the credits rolled at the end of the game, I could only applaud what was easily one of the best fiction stories I’d encountered in years. Its the experiences such as those that continue to fuel my imagination not stifle it.

Of course this is only one negative connotation associated with video games. I do understand that from time to time there are more serious events that are linked to excessive video game infatuation, but I am absolutely not qualified enough to broach that subject. All I know is that I turned out just fine and I am thrilled to have another source of inspiration in my back pocket for when the mood strikes me. In the meantime, I’ll be proudly sporting a controller in hand when I’m not writing and waiting to be whisked away into a new and exciting universe.

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