What I Learned From Video Games

I saw an internet meme that said, “You see children cooking. I see reading, measuring, math, following directions, collaboration, listening skills, problem solving.” Indeed, a lot of people still believe that learning only occurs when “subjects” are taken separately, dissected and taken to unrealistic depths — with a need for highly trained, specialized and expensive teachers.

Learning happens everywhere, everyday with mundane tasks such as cooking — and this learning is wholistic, practical and grounded on reality. It is learning that caters to a child’s interest, and thus has more retentive qualities than rote learning in the classroom.

An activity that parents today worry about a lot is their kids playing video games. They think it is useless and addictive. I find it ironic that these same parents have their own addictions — alcohol, socializing, shopping, expensive watches, gambling, arguing with random people on facebook, and so on.

Let me tell you something, I have been a computer gamer since I first put my hands on my friend’s Apple 2 computer way back in 1985. I was 11 years old. The games back then were displayed in 1 color (usually green) and a far cry from today’s photorealistic graphics.

The very first game that captivated me was Secret Agent. It was an adventure game that started with you on a plane that was bound to crash, and you had type commands like “open door” or “get gun” or “shoot door” in order to get to the next stage.

The game required a lot of reading as you had to read scene descriptions and deduct clues from it. It also taught a bit of logic. You learned very quickly that “get parachute” followed by “jump out of the plane” doesn’t work because you have to “wear parachute” first before jumping out otherwise it will just go flying out of your hand when you jump.

Where in the World Was Carmen Sandiego? was another very popular game. You followed bandits by tracking clues which would tell you which country they went to. For example, you could talk to a witness and he would say something like, “She said she always wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” and so that told you where the bandit went to next. And because you had to fly to the capital cities of each country, you would naturally memorize these capital-country pairs quite easily, and know if they were in Europe or Asia or South America. How’s that for learning geography?

Even arcade-style games like Karateka or Lode Runner or arcade-strategy game Captain Goodnight required rapid hand-eye coordination and strategic-thinking combined, especially at higher levels. And of course, I learned persistence when I kept dying at certain levels, but wanting to try again this time with a different tactic, or with faster fingers.

(Fun fact: I played the original Castle Wolfenstein, the grandfather of Wolfenstein 3D which came out in the 90’s — the original first person shooter. It was in 2D and only had stick figures. When the guards first appeared, my friend and I were startled because the speaker suddenly blared a very loud “Achtung! Achtung!”)

Even today, I still enjoy playing computer games and still learn from them. I don’t think it is unhealthy at all and people should loosen up about it. Yes, there are dangers in extremes, but that’s true for almost anything.

You see kids playing video games, I see hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking, persistence, out-of-the-box solutions, even applied math, physics, history and geography, and with the internet you can also throw in socialization and collaboration.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.