What Gamers Are Not

[originally posted on July 31st 2013]

By Jacob Toman

As a gaming missionary I often am asked the question “Why do you spend time playing games with people?” Some have loaded assumptions about gaming, play, and humanity. All of the negative stereotypes that have haunted gamers accompany me when I speak at churches, schools, and community events.

-gamers are a minority sub-culture

-gamers are violent idiots

-gamers are anti-social hermits

-games can only make people lazy

The reality is actually just the opposite. Gamer’s aren't the minority, in the United States there is an estimated 174 Million gamers (see Jane McGonigal’s New York Times Best Seller Reality is Broken). In a country of only 315 million people, that means over half the country is considered a gamer!

Gamers aren't violent idiots; over the summer there were over 800 people that played with an Esports organization I work with. Dozens of these individuals were actually active armed service personnel, individuals that are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of you and me for our country and our freedom.

Gamers are the most social people group I have ever met. Skype, Ventrillo, Teamspeak, Raidcall, these are just some of the many mechanisms that gamers use to communicate with hundreds of other gamers all across the world! When was the last time you spoke to someone from Venezuela, China, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, France, Florida, California, Texas, or New York? I can tell you I have spoken with individuals from all of those places-within the last 2 days. 

Gamers sold out the Staples center (home of the NBA Basketball teams Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, and NHL Hockey team Los Angeles Kings) within a few hours to watch the best from Esports compete against each other for a grand prize of $1 Million dollars.

Not even the LA Lakers tickets sell out as quickly as League of Legends Championship tickers!

Games do the exact opposite of encourage laziness. For almost a thousand years a person’s intelligence has been measured by their ability to play chess. Puzzle based games like Candy Crush, Sudoku, and Bejeweled are for your brain what dumbbells are for an athlete’s body. Sure we have all heard exaggerated statistics of studies that no one can actually cite on gaming and brain impact.

Thankfully scholars like Daphne Bavelier have done incredibly insightful research into how games actually make our brains smarter, better, faster, and stronger. For instance, did you know that gamers can actually pay attention to more distinct objects that non-gamers? Imagine the practical implications for driving! If a non-gamer can only see 3-4 objects, that means the front windshield, the side mirrors, and maybe the rear view mirror. A gamer can observe and track more than twice that amount! Meaning tracking blind spots and checking up on the kids in the back is no problem for a gamer in the same amount of time it takes a non-gamer to just check the review mirror.

Other researchers, like Mark Blair, have delved into the ability to track human intelligence by tracking in game data. With such ground breaking possibilities that suggest that video games are a paradigm shifting evaluation tool for human excellence observation. Beyond the mounds of research available on the positive impact games can have, lay the fundamental reality that the time when we learn the most (childhood) is the time when we are most at play.

Play is a fundamental essential to human society and life. One of the very real obsessions of our present day and age is the fantasy of “vacation”. Getting away from work, away from stress, escaping into the blessed bliss of escapism that promises only fictional drama that we can walk away from when we turn off the television, set down the book, or shut down the game. We are obsessed with relaxation and recreation precisely because we have a terrible balance of work and play in our daily diet.

Children playing video games are very much akin to playing make-believe. Two generations ago parents were not fussing over their children playing “cops and robbers” for fear that the children playing as the robbers would someday grow up to be actual robbers. Such a notion would have been considered silly. Games are incredibly impactful, and as a medium are incredibly powerful in relating story and developing meaning. As a medium it offers incredible depth and should be embraced for the ground breaking stories that can be told through the imagination of the interactive screen. 

The content of a story is what needs to be discussed and dissected, not the medium itself. There certainly are particular games that youth should not be playing, and there are some games that even a grown individual should not play! But imagine if we used the same logic for reading-just because there are some books our children should not read, doesn't justify throwing the entire discipline of reading out into the cold!

Take an interest in your children and their passions!

I recently have been encouraged by two parents in particular that have taken an intentional interest in their children and the stories they are engaging. These parents decided to read Ender's game prior to the movie coming out, and then let their children read the book, before all going to see the movie. What an amazing proactive strategy to help guide children through some very weighty material!

This is why as parents we have to take an interest in the games our children play, just like we take interest in the internet sites our children choose to visit, the music they choose to listen to, the television or movies they watch. If we can’t take interest in what our kids are passionate about, doesn't that say more about us as parents than the medium our children are enjoying?