"Stop wasting your time with games" - part 2

Back with the topic of what games can give the player other than just entertainment. Previous part was about how games can enrich our lives with new experiences. Today, I will be touching the topic of skills acquired in the games.

It was back in the summer of 1998 when I think I have heard this sentence the most - "stop wasting your time with games". I have "wasted" over 80 hours of my life playing Final Fantasy VII. But you know what happened next? After a month of school, my parents got asked by my English teacher "Did he attend some intensive course over the summer?". And then it dawned on them. No, all their kid did was "waste time" over a video game. A video game that gave me way more vocabulary in 80 hours that I have learned at school over a few years.

Teaching a language is an obvious perk if you're not a native speaker, but there are tons of other skills that can be learnt through games. These skills will be the main topic this time. Not all of these skills are so obvious and not every game teaches them. Also, to really benefit from them, once again, while playing - you have to pay attention.

Here's a bunch of skills you can quite commonly learn in games:

Learning a language is actually the tip of the iceberg. Single player games teach us, through predetermined responses from the NPC's, how various people might react to different situations and our dialogue choices, but it's multiplayer games where communication really can be learnt. From coordinating attacks with the rest of your squad, through bowing before a duel in Dark Souls to simple chirping in Journey - all of this increases our communication skills.

Problem solving
Games have a unique way of putting us in abstract situations, giving us complex tasks and the tools to solve them. Even kids that don't consider themselves bright are able to find solutions to these problems. That's extremely valuable for personal development. Lets a person know that given some pieces of the puzzle, they can attempt to solve it. Every type of a game can teach problem solving - from extremely robust strategies to the simplest shooters. Where there's data, objective and obstacles, there's always a harder or easier problem to solve.

Strongly connected to communication. What you can achieve alone in most games is far from what you can do with a group. Many online games push you very strongly towards cooperation, making many tasks simply impossible to do when playing alone. Cooperation lurks in everything from setting up a balanced squad through battle tactics, to loot distribution. In many cases, when you can't be a team player, nobody will want to team up with you. Learning to cooperate is pretty much forced onto players in the online environment.

Where there's a game, there's a competition. Many games show leaderboards and statistics, many encourage to post and compare them online. Even before the internet age video games thrived on competition. Who will get farther? Who will get there faster? Who will get somewhere on first try? Who will beat the game without dying? Possibilities are endless and if you take a look at the challenges people themselves force upon them, you would be amazed what amount of self-improvement and self-proving games can induce.

Leadership and people management
This is mostly true for online games, but not only. In real life, we rarely get a chance to be a leader. At school, at work, most of us are just cogs in the machine. In online games, we get to lead squads to battle. Even if we are shy and feeling unimportant in real life,  in online games we get a chance to manage the whole guilds of hundreds of people. To make the guild successful, leaders need to assemble a real management team - recruiters, event managers, battle advisors, finance managers... And before every battle, the leaders get to speak to all of the guild members to motivate them to victory. How often do you get to experience or practice something like that in the real world?

Innovation and creativity
Games are becoming more and more open, letting players explore their creativity. In the 90's many games included a map editor that let players create their own experiences in the games. Now games like Minecraft or Little Big Planet are all about creating your own worlds. As long as games have existed, players have used their mechanics to do things these games were never designed for. Playing with physics systems, "breaking" the game mechanics to create amusing situations - every game is a potential tool for exploring your creativity.

Logical thinking
Games are based on systems. Systems, in order to work, need to be based on logic. If the player wants to succeed in a game, he needs to at least instinctively follow this logic, as going against it will almost always mean failure. Whether you like it or not, every game, even the most abstract one, will force you to use logic to progress in it. Be it solving a complicated puzzle or just a simple task of ammo management, it's always based on logic.

Planning and optimization
This is actually something that I will probably write a whole separate article about, but the general idea goes like this: Every game has a goal. Even if it doesn't, like Minecraft, it lets us easily come up with a goal for ourselves. This goal is most of the time very specific and well-defined and we do get the right tools to reach it. Based on these tools, the player consciously and naturally optimizes the time spent in the game, planning his build, his next quest, how to spend his money or experience, in order to reach this goal. Now think how useful it would be to apply this skill to real life.

Reflexes and precission
Majority of games includes a fast-paced action requiring incredible reflexes to master. Fighting games, sport games, platformers, racing games, strategy games... Even simplest games like Tetris or Pac-Man need extreme hand-to-eye coordination if you are to master them. Research has shown that "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference." - Daphne Bavelier, cognitive researcher (source).

Art skills:
Depending on the interests and perceptiveness of the player, games can teach incredibly many artistic things. They are a fast-developing visual medium, with often amazing art direction. They also focus more and more on story, creating compelling characters and interesting storylines. Many kids start drawing thanks to the games. Many kids try writing because of games. Many kids listen to game music. Of course not all of them will become world-class artists, but I personally know quite a few who got interested in various kinds of art this way and are now making their living thanks to that.

This is by no means a complete list of skills the games can teach. Every new game that comes out has a chance to have some new mechanics with a potential to teach something new. Also, I most probably forgot about many of them, quite possibly very obvious ones too. Purpose of this article was not to list them all though. It was to show you, how games can teach you things without you even knowing you are learning. There are two requirements for you to meet if you want to really benefit from games in such way.

First and I cannot stress enough how important, is pay attention. Yes, I know I am repeating myself. It's just that important. If you pay attention during your online sessions, you will learn how to effectively lead and communicate, how to apply correct tactics to every situation and solve new problems, how to improve yourself through competition. If you don't pay attention, you are just jumping around, shooting stuff and even if you happen to win a match or two, you are loosing a lot that the game has to offer.

Second is to realize how you can transition these skills to real life. All to often, we are unable to make the connection between what we learn in games and its applications outside of them. Have you ever realized that you can make tons of virtual money in an MMO, but for some reason you are not doing it in real world? I know that the real life is much more complex than any game can possibly be, but on the other hand, have you realized, that in games you are able to solve complicated problems and in your life you are struggling with the simple ones?

So once again - play games, pay attention, and once in a while stop and think how what you learned can help you make your life better. I guarantee it can. So far I've covered how the games can enrich your life as a medium and what skills they can teach you without you even realizing it. In the next and the final part of this article series I will touch the topic of how the games can actually become your career. And yes, you guessed it. A big part of it will be paying attention ;)

Polish version of the article available on zgranarodzina.edu.pl

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