They’ll rot your brain. They’ll make you lazy. They’ll demagnetize your moral compass and turn you into a sociopathic monster. They’ll sabotage your ability to function in the real world.
Sound familiar, gamers?
In the 1950s and 1960s, critics claimed a new form of mainstream entertainment, comic books, were going to do just that. However, many comic book lovers grew up to be productive members of society, and one even wrote Pulitzer Prize winning novel on the subject.
In the mid-19th century, such criticism was heaped on Penny Dreadfuls — the popular, cheap, serialized stories that young adults, particularly males, devoured. The Penny Dreadfuls were so popular that boys of limited means would band together, pitching their money into a communal pot to buy one issue, which they would then pass around, taking turns until everyone had read.
Today, the same charges have been leveled at video games. From politicians to religious groups to parents associations, the critics have been persistent in their doom and gloom toward the impact of video games on culture.
But there’s a growing body of scientific evidence that says, in some cases, video games are better for you than books.
“New technology and new media have always been met with skepticism and predictions about their adaption and areas of use, but they have rarely been accurate,” said Erik Hoftun, publisher of The Book of Games Volume 1 and 2.
Education, in particular, is one area in which Hoftun feels games haven’t been given their due.
“Of course I am not advocating video gaming as a total substitution for reading,” Hoftun says. “[But] sooner or later, educators are bound to discover the incredible educational potential of video games.”
In The Book of Games Vol. 2, Hoftun illustrates his point with the US state of West Virginia.
West Virginia has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country. While books, by their passive nature, couldn’t possibly address a problem like obesity, there was no such limitation on video games. West Virginia began offering the popular title, Dance Dance Revolution, as an alternative to standard gym exercises in 157 schools.
The move was a hit, eliciting enthusiastic participation in students who were otherwise apathetic toward physical education.
In another example, The Book of Games Vol. 2 highlights a school in Norway, Vear Elementary, which implemented DDR as an alternative to traditional physical education. They met with great success, according to teachers in the BoG, with the educators going out of their way to note that the children often wrote and performed better in class after the physical activity provided by the game.
These anecdotal examples are backed by research. As cited in the BoG, a study reported on by Reuters followed 50 children between 7 and 12 years old over 24-weeks. Results showed that children who played physically active dancing games for 30-minutes or more per day maintained and even reduced their weight.
And the benefits extend beyond those offered by exercise, Hoftun adds.
“All video games, and adventure games in particular, encourage scientific method of the purest kind. They follow the classic formula of trying something, failing, try something different, and figuring out what works,” Hoftun said. “In scientific terms: Develop hypothesis, test, prove or disprove, adjust hypothesis, test again. So if you want to develop small scientists, get the kids away from their passive book reading, and have them play video games.”
Currently the United States public school system is ranked 18 out of 24 according to a 2003 study done by UNICEF.
In the report, countries such as South Korea, Japan, Finland Austria and the United Kingdom beat the United States. Another study done around the same time, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, gaged the overall progress of the average US student. In the 4th grade, US students rank as well as their counterparts in higher ranked countries. However, by the 12th grade, US students had fallen behind by a significant margin.
James Paul Gee, Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has argued for years that video games would go a long way toward reversing that trend.
“Better theories of learning are embedded in video games than many children in primary and secondary schools ever experience in the classroom,” said Gee in a 2003 interview with The Observer. “If schools want to engage their students in the same way as computer games, they need to drop their snobbish antipathy and begin learning from them instead.”