Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Games As Role Models

I wrote this about a fortnight ago for...yep, you guessed it, Forces Of Geek. Go, Team FOG! Anyway, after my last post about they grey areas between good and evil and my suggestion that we might be playing the bad guys, this post is about all the good that games can inspire. When I came up with this post, I was sitting on a bench on top of a hill near where I live with my fiancé on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I noticed shards of broken glass on the ground, this triggered my thought process; "we're pretty lucky if the only thing we have to worry about is this broken glass, especially when war and famine exist" and out of this, my article was born.

Fellow gamers, we are very lucky; we are privileged because we can live our own lives but also come home from work or school and live another life through the games we play.  Take a moment to appreciate that, we live in a world in which many people live without games, some don't have the opportunity to live out different lives in various virtual worlds, some might not even have the chance to have one life in which to live the way they want.

Games such as Grand Theft Auto V, Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 or even real time strategy games such as the Command and Conquer series are the closest most of us will ever get to experiencing a life of crime or spending time in a war zone, while crime and war rages on, we can happily drop in and out of these things. 

Of course, the depictions in these games are not wholly accurate but the point is, they afford us the ability to sample horror from a safe distance and we take this for granted. We squabble over which consoles are best, whether games inspire violence and judge them fervently as valid forms of art and entertainment. We are focusing on the wrong things.

If anything, these games should not be derided or criticised for their content but praised, possibly even revered for opening the eyes of spoilt, first world citizens to the grim reality which affects other people, instead of shying away from controversial issues or ignoring the terrible conditions other humans live in. 

GTA V doesn't make me a murderous criminal anymore than Civilisation makes me a prosperous Emperor. Here are some examples of games that I would hope have a positive influential effect to the degree that gaming nay-sayers often propagate.

I believe these games give us a strong moral compass and allow us to contemplate things we don't have access to or give us the opportunity to imagine in our narrow view of life experience. If the biggest problem we have in life is deciding to which game to play next or having to heavily defend ourselves over which console we like best then I'd say we're pretty lucky. 

Theme Park 

Believe it or not, entrepreneurial business simulators have the potential to teach us an abundance of useful life skills. You learn very quickly that punishing the virtual population (by refusing to build toilets, revelling as customers throw up on your rides, closing the park early etc.) that there is a direct correlation between your actions and your profit, mainly if you treat these people poorly, you will lose money and your theme park will fail. 

You learn how to effectively run a business and manage your workforce. Okay, so it also celebrates consumerism and is a base model of capitalism but playing this game as a kid I saw just how warped it could be and saw both the potential good and bad that businesses could do - if it can teach a child the basics of managing a business but also provide them with a foundation upon which to build moral concepts, I'd say it's pretty positive.   


Ingenuity, craftsmanship. design, working as part of a group - these are just some of the things that Minecraft can teach us. You only need to look on YouTube to see thousands of videos of people who have taken a very limited set of tools and created something that they were not initially designed for. 

The best example I can think of is the elevators; the tools available to you in Minecraft allow you to construct all manner of stairs and platforms but devices that raise you up from point A below to point B vertically is non-existent, yet somehow through gamers employing untapped engineering prowess, elevators have been made possible. 

Much in the same way Lego works, you can either work to set of instructions and within the parameters or you can choose to experiment and play however you like. That kind of creative freedom encourages new innovations and unique designs.

Assassin's Creed

In the Assassin's Creed series you are presented with well known time periods and famous historical figures and given a fantastical spin on them. Regardless of whether you learn anything about the period, the overriding message in the games is to question authority, stand up for yours beliefs and defend the innocent...with stabbing. 

Of course, another inherent lesson in the series is about learning from the past, the very origin of the word 'History' in very crude terms is 'His story'; as a document of persons experience at a given point in time. In the game, you enter memories of other individuals and explore their memories in order to learn something from their past or find the answer to a problem in the present. It encourages gamers to consider other points of view, to be thoughtful of others and learn from past mistakes - maybe that lesson isn't there explicitly but the sentiment is there.

The summation I would give about these games is if you knew an individual imbued with these qualities; a keen eye for business, able to provide for the needs of the public, a creator, inventor and an incorruptible, compassionate individual who is aware of how their society got to where it was and has an idea of what it could be - you may very well have the outline for a perfect political leader or magnate of industry or at the very least a pretty decent human being.

So to those who continually berate and badmouth games without ever having played them I give you our ambassadors (those aforementioned people I just described), take it up with them. 

Gamers are creators, poets, political leaders, artists, philosophers, leaders, entrepreneurs, architects and experts in all kinds of fields. 

We're not socially inept teenagers in our parents basements shouting obscenities at everyone - well, some are. 

Having said that, fictional political leader, Frank Underwood comes to mind, he plays games and perhaps he's not the best example either...

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