The Virtue of Gaming, a column by Wyatt Loethen

As humanity ventures into a more electronic and Internet focused world, the art of video gaming has become more integrated into our society. It is not really a small part of it either being a $10 billion entertainment industry that employs thousands of people with jobs of all sorts, like the normal business jobs such as PR reps., CEOs, etc., to more creative jobs such as writers, coders, artists, and directors.  Not only do video games have a serious economic impact, they also affect us on a societal level.  Being a huge entertainment source, 91 percent of teenagers play video games, but it’s not only for children. In fact the average “gamer” is 34 years, destroying many stereotypes.  They also let people connect and play with others from all across the world, which in a way, will help bring the world much closer together, and show that not everyone is so different after all.

There are many people who say that video games are the bane of society, and that they cause violence, shootings, murder, and even rape.  These tragedies are falsely attributed to video games often because there is usually a recurring violent theme in most games, but studies have proven that video games, especially violent ones, have a somewhat calming effect on “high-risk” teens, reducing aggression and frustration. As well, it should be noted that the bloodiest times in human history didn’t need video games to begin, such as the early 20th century and its various wars.  Most of these people attributing video games for society’s problems are trying to find a more palpable scapegoat to blame as oppose to human ego, mental illness, and the availability of weapons that are meant to kill many people, very quickly, very efficiently.

Another common stereotype of gamers is that they are lazy and childish, and that playing video games is “a waste of time”.  Many people though make a lot of money from playing video games, such as Korean Lee “Flash” Young-Ho who started at the age of 14 (now 22) has made $437,114.53 from only playing 40 tournaments of “Starcraft”: ‘Brood War’, though he has been less successful with “Starcraft II”: ‘Wings of Liberty’ and “Starcraft II”: ‘The Heart of the Swarm’.

Making video games is also a great career choice. Take Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former owner of Nintendo for example.  At the time of his death in 2013, Yamauchi was estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $2.1 billion, and in 2008, Forbes estimated his net worth to be $7.8 billion, making him the richest person in the entire state of Japan.  But of course, chances are that if you are video game developer you won’t become the owner of Nintendo. The average Joe/Jane of video game developing makes roughly a starting salary of $50,000, though it often varies by which company they work for. But if a developer works up the corporate ladder they may earn roughly $80,000.  The highest paying field in developing video games is the screenwriting. Video-game screenwriters make a starting salary of $60,000 but can reach up to making $150,000 or even more.

As one can tell, video games have a great economic impact, but let’s not forget the essence of video games: entertainment.  Despite not being as popular as television or movies, videos games are a prodigious source of entertainment.  They can be played at one’s leisure and from the comfort of their home with their TV, on their laptop or computer, on their phone, with friends, at arcades, and now virtually everywhere with portable gaming devices such as Nintendo’s 3DS or Sony’s PS Vita.

Like reading a book or watching a good movie, video games can help a person break away from the stress and frustration of life. But because of this, many argue that they can cause people to be reclusive. However, they can be enjoyed with anyone around the world online, or with a person’s friends and family, thanks to their multiplayer accessibility.

The other big, perhaps the biggest entertainment source contemporary society has is watching television and movies, but when a person watches them all they do is sit there, mindlessly gazing into the screen.  Video games have something to actually offer a person as opposed to their 200 channels of brain rot.  Almost all video games have some sort of puzzle to figure out to go to the next level. A great example of this is the “Legend of Zelda” series, where a player must outsmart or out strategize an adversary. This video-game challenge will use a person’s problem-solving and critical thinking skills.  Video games also increase one’s reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and memory.  And of course there are the various workout and dance games that can help one stay in shape.

There’s another level of video games that is highly overlooked: education.  There are many games that start with a cultural theme or a historical background, such as the “Civilization” series, in which you play as one of the various civilizations of the world, such as the Romans, The British Empire, Korea, The Songhai Empire, and many, many more, and a gamer builds cities, builds great wonders, has diplomatic negotiations, and everything else a government would do. The game also gives a lot of background of the cultures of the empires, and it provides a huge wealth of knowledge.  There are many other games that have a historical theme that help people know so much more about history and other cultures.

Video games also are multi-media art.  There are games such as “Okami,” where one plays as the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu incarnated into a wolf that destroys demons with flowers and a celestial paint brush. Not only does it have a great story that rivals most of today’s popular books, but it has amazing artwork; the graphics resemble the brushwork of antique Japanese scroll paintings.  And, to create an even stronger atmosphere the makers of the game added traditional sounding Japanese music that was written for the game itself.  Additionally, it’s very common for video game scores to become very popular songs, such as the “Legend of Zelda”: Ocarina of Time’s themes “Saria’s Song” and “The Great Fairy Fountain”.

A person may think that video games would have to have some flaw at this point, and well they do. But it’s not so much video games themselves, rather that in this case video games are a being a manifestation of an ongoing cultural problem, being gender representation, mostly of women.

Now first of all it should be noted that video game characters tend to be an archetype of whatever they are representing, so most characters are exaggerated.  But many video games often take this too far.  Now there is nothing wrong with women expressing their sexuality however they see fit, as well as dressing however they desire along as it is all her choice.  The problem is that almost all video game developers are men. And these male developers are creating these female characters that are stereotypically sexy; the problem is this is the only depiction of women in video games.  And if a character of any gender doesn’t follow the traditional gender stereotypes, they are heavily scrutinized, such as the character Leo from the Tekken series, who was actually the first non-gender conforming video game character.

Another problem with gender representation in video games is that almost all of the bestselling games, particularly the action and shooter games, aren’t even targeted games for anyway to play, but just for men usually, as seen in the commercials for them.  There are also few female lead characters, especially in those games; the only two notable shooter games where the main protagonist is a woman is the “Metroid series” and “Portal 2.”

Video games are an important part of our contemporary culture, like them or not. They have a serious impact on our world, and they are not leaving soon.  Though they can have a fault or two, these are often just a reflection of our society’s problems itself.  They are harmless pieces of technology that do not cause murder or violence.  Instead of trying to blame video games, that have been proven statistically to not cause any of the world’s problems, let us in a unified human initiative to actually try to find the true root cause of all of these world problems and solve them together.

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