Asking Big Questions #012: “How Can Video Games Be Healthy?”

We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

 

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!

Image result for pander to me

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 FireFinal 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.

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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.”
Haruki Murakami

 

In your service,
Well-Red-Mage-Black-sm
-The Well-Red Mage

 

Further reading:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC558687/

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/video-game-addiction-no-fun#1

https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/feb/05/video-gaming-health-disorder-world-health-organisation-addiction

https://news.northeastern.edu/2018/07/24/how-playing-the-right-video-games-can-lead-to-better-health/

http://mentalfloss.com/article/65008/15-surprising-benefits-playing-video-games

https://www.iflscience.com/brain/playing-video-games-good-your-brain-here-s-how/

https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/9knkm8/playing-video-games-too-much-might-be-bad-for-your-mental-health

https://www.idtech.com/blog/video-games-are-good-for-you

 

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11 thoughts on “Asking Big Questions #012: “How Can Video Games Be Healthy?”

  1. I wrote extensively about this in April of 2016 (and then adapted it in July of 2017) so I won’t reiterate everything I said right there, I’ll just direct you to the post in question: https://moegamer.net/2017/07/20/how-video-games-might-have-saved-my-life/

    Video games have brought me comfort and meaning in a world that, as a 37 year old recently diagnosed with Asperger’s (that I’ve probably actually been dealing with without realising for my whole life), I often feel I don’t understand and am not really built for. While I haven’t struggled as much as some people in the world (obligatory white cis male disclaimer, blah blah friggin’ blah), I’ve had plenty of my own difficulties over the years, and games have provided me an outlet where I feel like I can achieve something without having to fear the consequences of failure.

    Not only that, they’ve provided me with a means of focusing my favourite non-gaming hobby of writing; they provided me with employment for a short period until I got screwed over by what the professional business has become, too, but to be honest I’m much happier with the creative freedom “being my own boss” offers so far as writing is concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some really valid and interesting points here! I learned a fair few words from seeing them in games and then going to my dad and asking “what does pariah mean?” Or some similar word. As for health, games have always been a good way to distract myself when times are bad and have helped me to meet many of my friends, though this is a double edged sword as games helped me to isolate myself from other kids during my high school years (though to be fair they were mostly horrors!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is really a double edged sword sometimes, and I think that’s why talking about its positives and promoting health and games is so crucial. Games make it easier than ever to either meet new people or to isolate ourselves. It’s really a unique thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Videogames were there for me in some of my darkest moments, RPG’s in particular made me feel like I had friends on those rare occasions where I wasn’t sure if I had any for real. When I made it into a larger school, I finally met children with similar interests. When you have a game in common, friendship comes rather swiftly after.

    Also, videogames increased my reading level early on, and some of the books I read, helped me out in ways I wouldn’t fully comprehend until later.

    I will, for certain, admit that I am indeed fully addicted to video games. But will never look to “cure” it, because even many years later… it still helps. (And there are definitely much worse things a person could become addicted to).

    Gaming (though it was the tabletop variety) helped me meet my wife.
    Video gaming connected me to the people that eventually became my table-top group that introduced me to my wife

    Without video gaming at the root of my experiences, I wouldn’t have the two lovely children I have been blessed with.

    I gave a lot of my life to video games, and through connections created by gaming, games have given more back than I ever would have imagined.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Really awesome response, thank you! I am encouraged to hear about your friendships and relationships you developed because of games. That’s so important. And I’d even wager that your addiction boils down into more of a love/infatuation than a full blown 20-hour MMO marathon that ends with them sawing your dead legs off! XD

      Like

  4. As in any hobbies, it can be both healthy or toxic. In my case, video games are what made me… Me.

    It fueled my creativity & inspiration, even at a very young age. It made me read about various subjects including biology, geography & History. It pushed my writing forward, and helped develop new interests & refine many of my skills.

    It helped me cope with things & offered me comfort when needed. It expanded both my mind & horizons… and as been a crucial part of my life for over 31 years… Being 3 when I played my very first game. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That spurring of curiosity is so vital, and we typically don’t measure it in terms of health but it really is. The inquisitive mind is the healthy mind. And that’s so cool that you remember your age when you played your first game! What was it?

      Like

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