We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.
Setting aside at the beginning all the preconceptions, imaginations and realities, and the stereotypes of “the gamer”, I’d like to get beyond what might be the singular image of what video game obsession can do to someone: the unkempt, socially inept, stinking marshmallow of a human trolling rage posts online while they swelter in their self-made solitary confinement. Yeah, I’d like to get beyond that. It’s not hard to, really. Simply think about how many people, gamers or “individuals who occasionally partake in the activity of playing interactive entertainment” if you like, who don’t fit that extreme and narrow caricature. There are people of all sorts, which is particularly why stereotypes in their generalizations fail in their honesty toward absolutely everyone.
Now that all that’s been said, we can move on.
I want to talk about a fairly broad subject today which seems to be discussed only in parts: health and video games. Of course, this can encompass physical and mental health, as well as social health. Questions of how video games as forms of entertainment and art can accomplish this and motivate or encourage health are varied, and that could take all sorts of things into consideration, most notably design and structure, but I want to ask the biggest form of the question here: “How can video games be healthy?”
As always with the Asking Big Questions series, I invite you to share your thoughts on the subject either in a simple comment or in your own blog post! Please do share your thoughts and stories about how video games have helped you cope with your own issues, how they’ve helped you learn and improve yourself, how they have encouraged you to get your body and/or mind fit. We’re all different and I anticipate that we’ll have a variety of tales to tell!
As for me, I learned to read and expand my vocabulary, and indeed I fell in love with reading thanks to two things: Calvin and Hobbes and video games. The former was a special treat for me in the newspaper up until it was discontinued in ’95 when I was 10 years old. When my family took annual-ish trips around the Big Island to Hapuna Beach, stopping in Waimea for a breather, my parents got me a collection of Calvin and Hobbes strips from a local bookstore there. I’d read it voraciously, even though I didn’t get most of the jokes or understand all the huge words. I eventually learned to, handy pocket Dictionary with me, and I also credit the strip (and my dad) for giving me a sense of humor.
Then there were video games. Some of the earliest games I remember playing were The Legend of Zelda for the NES and Maniac Mansion on C64, and I can recall struggling to try to read with these, especially with the plentiful dialogue in the latter. These came out in 1986 and ’87 so I don’t remember when I first played them but they are the earliest, nonetheless.
Later stories came into my life in Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy IV, and EarthBound. These titles and others further invested me in reading, more so than any of the school tasks that forced me to read through the classics (though I eventually began my own romance with classic literature outside of formal education, but that’s another story). Reading for pleasure became a big part of my life and who I was as a young person. But it started with games like these, and it didn’t stop.
It went on. On into the PlayStation One age. On into the 2000s. Now here I am, writing about these very games with many of the words I learned from them. Would I have become a writer had I never had the chance to fall in love with reading? I doubt it. Reading and writing go hand in hand, and I had to learn to love the first before undertaking the second.
While voice acting in video games can be very much hit or miss (or miss, miss, miss, miss, miss…), there’s a lot of value in learning to read and learning to love to read in video games. Children like myself should have the opportunity to play games like these, and be introduced to games that will capture their imaginations while they’re inevitably learning. Learning, that mental equivalent of physical exercise, is something that have made video games a healthier past-time for me.
Zak Mckracken and the Alien Mindbenders, for me another early example of learning to love reading.
Learning to read is just one facet of video games and teaching, instruction, self-improvement, and physical or mental health… there’s so much more to explore and discuss, just as there’s so much more to gaming than the singular parody of a person I opened this post with. To be realistic, certainly over-consumption of anything can lead to health problems, and there have been noted cases where that has happened. Too much of anything, even exercise, can do you harm. I don’t advocate addiction of any kind and we should be discerning enough to know how much is too much. Being honest about that means the difference between merely trying to justify our hobby or not. However, not all games are brainless death machines. Not all games involve sedentary non-activity. Not all video games are inaccessible to those with a range of unique needs. Take breaks!
So let’s hear it: how are video games healthy to you? Share your stories with us either in the comments or in a blog post! Just be sure to link back to this original post so that we can find your response. Together, as a community, we can demonstrate that we’re beyond that caricature, that we care about people and ourselves, that we care about improving our minds and bodies in unique ways, overcoming our challenges, and with our heroes and sheroes in the games we love, complete the quests that are our own lives.
“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”
In your service,
-The Well-Red Mage
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing through thoughtful, long-form reviews. We’re a community aspiring to pay our contributors and build a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing and culture. See our Patreon page for more info!