The New York Times recently published an article about how video games are causing younger men to work less.

Sure, an excess of just about anything is bad. No argument there, especially when it takes away from time that would be better spent working, contributing to society, and so on. But why focus on only video games taking young men aged 21-30 away from work when time spent watching TV is five times more than time spent playing games (17.1 hours watching TV per week versus 3.4 hours playing video games), according to this same study?

A Google search brings up a host of recent articles about the supposed addictive nature of video games, with China going as far as treating players with electroshock therapy.

As a player of video games, I’d like to offer an explanation of how, as the title of the Times article states, video games have gotten really good and why they should be embraced instead of blamed for pulling young men out of the workforce.

To state the obvious, the technology that powers video games has improved dramatically since the days of the first home consoles. Games themselves have gotten more complex and engrossing, allowing people to lose themselves in games, arguably more than in any other form of entertainment. But not every game is like League of Legends, the massively multiplayer online game mentioned in the Times article. For every game of this type, there’s one with an amazing storyline that lasts no longer than a season of a typical Netflix series.

In many ways modern video games are the ultimate form of entertainment, combining all the senses into one extremely absorbing package. You’re watching what’s happening on screen and listening for audio cues while reacting reflexively with the correct inputs, all in real time. It’s easy to see how this can become addictive, but it’s just as easy to see how it can be used for positive things as well - things like rehabilitation, education, therapy and inclusivity.

I wrote a researched paper in 2012 that highlighted the current uses of video games - specifically motion controlled ones - in the healthcare field. At the time, the Wii was still fairly popular and its motion controls were being used widely for physical therapy. This wasn’t the first foray into using games to aid recovery, education and even just serving as distraction for healthcare patients.

According to an article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, young patients undergoing chemotherapy in 1987 were instructed to play a video game for 10 minutes and showed significant decreases in reported nausea symptoms when compared to children who were instructed to play with non-digital books or toys. More examples abound, including patients with spinal cord injury using their wheelchairs as virtual controllers for racing games and increasing their hand-eye coordination and muscle control and games specifically developed to teach children how to manage their insulin levels and take their medication at the right times.

Technology advances since then have made way for games to be more accessible for everyone, exemplified by students using virtual reality to make games more accessible for the visually impaired. Just like anything else, video games should be available to everyone regardless of their physical and mental ability. It’s encouraging to see that designers and developers are trying harder to include inclusivity in their process from the beginning, instead of adding patches later.

Video games are a form of entertainment that can obviously have major benefits, and should be embraced for these instead of stigmatized for their potential to be addicting.

A recent article about a boy who identified with a video game character really struck a chord. It describes how an autistic boy and his brother use the hugely popular game Overwatch to connect with each other, and how the boy - who happens to be autistic - connects with a major character in the game who also has autism. He loves that the character is part of a team of heroes and her contributions are just as valuable as everyone else’s, and he reaches out to the game’s director to express his gratitude. Definitely a recommended read.

And sometimes, people just need to escape from the real world. It’s a simple but powerful truth. Speaking from personal experience, playing video games can provide a uniquely powerful distraction from health problems and anything else that can overwhelm when given too much focus. Playing games isn’t a permanent solution or a vital contribution to society, but just like any form of entertainment used in healthy moderation, they can make people feel a little better for a little while.

References and Further Reading