Much like many people who would call themselves ‘gamers’ that I know, I have been bewildered by the assertion that video games consistently have a negative effect on people. I’ve surrounded myself with people who list video games among their primary hobbies since grade school. Sure, I faked sick a few times to play Final Fantasy VI or lost a day to (insert name of game here, as they’re plentiful), but I’ve primarily seen and witnessed the positive side to playing video games for as long as I can remember.
Please understand that I’m not blind. I know that you can’t turn and take a step in the gaming community without at least seeing a pocket of toxicity within spitting distance. That’s not foreign in any community, though, and that can extend outside of media related pastimes. The truth of the matter is that volatility can be inherent anywhere that passion exists. If the masses can access a piece of work, a concept, or even a political ideal, a multitude of emotions can spring forth, be they inspiration, satisfaction, or even vehemence.
I’d rather focus, for a short time, on the positive. The positive effects that video games have had on myself and others I’ve interacted with throughout my life. It’s definitely easy to say that without video games- and plenty of other ingredients, but bear with me since this is, after all, a gaming blog- my life would probably have gone into a much different direction with much different people and results, many negative or unfulfilling.
I invite you to take a quick digital stroll with me through some memories to reflect on some positive effects video games have had on me (yes, even some violent ones) and hopefully, feel free to share your own in some way!
The first video game I remember playing vividly was Super Mario Bros. I know that’s probably a shock given that I was born a year or so before it was released, but I remember having a Nintendo Entertainment System and playing through a majority of the game before I had reached kindergarten age. When I reached the ending levels of the game somewhere between the ages of four and six, my aunt had called my parents into the room at one point to gush about how impressive it was. Maybe it had been my youth. Maybe it was the fact that the adults in the house hadn’t achieved as much. I remember feeling proud of myself, despite my laser focus on the task at hand. It was the first I remember of feeling confidence, and it honestly probably sparked my desire to play video games to this day.
As I grew older and started into elementary school, I needed hobbies. My family moved out of range of my school district, so I was meeting all new people and engaging with a completely different community. The kids that lived in the apartment building my parents had chosen made no qualms about letting me know that I had broken their ecosystem by ‘taking’ the apartment that someone they had been growing up with used to live in- not that I had a say in that. I became a quiet kid, but once I started in school and getting to know some other students, we started to bond over a few things- movies, books, and of course, video games. Some of my best memories were huddling around a PC with my friends while I was being babysat or playing through Final Fantasy IV and Secret of Mana, if we weren’t engaged in Zombies Ate My Neighbors. We had common ground. I felt included in an environment where I had started as an outlier and stranger.
Then there was high school. High school was a bit of a trip, laden with missteps, awkward personalities colliding on a daily basis, and regular discoveries of self. By high school, I was known as an aspiring filmmaker, a horror aficionado, and a video game enthusiast. I was dealing with coming into my identity in a number of ways, as well as impending depression and anxiety. My lifelines involved spending time with my friends at the arcades nearby, spending hours playing Dance Dance Revolution or any number of other games that we bonded over. While I had plenty of other pursuits to engage in, the relationships that lasted through graduation revolved around people I played these games with.
I also remember my schoolwork taking a dive later on in my high school career. I’m plenty intelligent, if I say so myself, but applying myself was difficult. One of my teachers, though, used to host a few of us when there was free time after school to play games on a projector in his classroom. It wasn’t a regular occurrence but it was enough to make the small group of us feel like just we were included in something. I also remember that teacher being one of the influences, through talking during these times among others, who helped me back on track to pull my grades up so that I could get into college. Sure, in this case it was more the teacher than the games that were the influence. Would I have been so receptive if it weren’t for that common ground, though? Probably not. In fact, the most positively influential figures in my last years of high school engaged me on both gaming and film-making heavily.
Once college began, my anxieties really amped up. I was rooming with a sophomore, which was rare from what I had been told, and I was concerned about how I would fit in. I moved in two days before my roommate, and even in my run-ins with other students and RAs who had moved in early, I hadn’t run into anyone who seemed like they shared many of my interests. I was a nervous mess, awaiting my new roommate who I may or may not gel with. If we didn’t get along, it would seriously ruin my first year of collegiate experiences. The day of his arrival came, and he squeezed through the door with a large cardboard box in his arms. We exchanged some words while he put it down and took a breath. That was when I saw that the box was full of video game systems, namely Playstation 2 and a Nintendo. Immediately, conversation revved into a flurry of excited back and forths that distracted him from gathering the rest of his stuff in any timely manner. Shortly after, our room became a nightly gathering of gamers and late-night play sessions. While I don’t have a vast amount of positive memories of college life, I know that my bonding with people there went smoothly over Super Smash Bros tournaments, Resident Evil: Outbreak sessions, and Soul Calibur 2 character creation and fight nights (along with a slew of board games).
A few years after college, the most important thing came out of my video game hobby. On a now defunct gaming website that veered its attention to the LGBT community, I took a chance and messaged a guy who seemed to not be the most active person on the forums there, but he was attractive, well-spoken, and he was named for a character from a game that I loved and was rarely referenced. Shortly after, we met and had our first date at an arcade on a boardwalk. We played through some of the machines, and when we reached The Simpsons machine, I asked him to be my boyfriend. Thankfully, he said yes. After another short time passed, we were engaged to be married. We’ve been married for nearly eight years, and even now, I’m sitting here writing this while he plays through Atelier Sophie on our television in our home. Without bonding over video games from the get-go, though, our paths would have never crossed. We wouldn’t have had long conversations about plots and themes or character nuances.
It’s tough for me not to see the positives in playing video games. They’ve helped with my mental health, offering small achievements and focus during tough times or even just plain distraction. They’ve helped me with concepts like teamwork, puzzle-solving, and even critical analysis of media and literary devices. Heck, I’m pursuing a writing/journalism/educational slant right now by regularly supplying content for a blog on gaming. I should also point out that I’ve certainly played plenty of violent video games. I love horror in all of its forms, gaming included, and there is no lack of gore and violence in games like Friday the 13th, Bloodborne, Until Dawn or any of the other games I’ve played that include people meeting their ends in unfortunate ways. They have all been part of a hobby that has had a positive and profound impact on me as a part of the grand scheme that is my life.
Feel free to share, in the comments or otherwise, any positive impacts that gaming has had on you or someone you know! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed focusing on making the gaming world a more positively skewed place, and I’m pretty happy to have found a community and people around me who have wanted to do the same- so I’d love to hear stories and testimony on these things.
Hope you’re all having a fantastic start to your week and happy gaming!