portal_2_companion_cube

 

Well, summer is ending and that means that kids everywhere are gloomily starting to reacquaint themselves with the public school system of North America. Yes, as you read this some frustrated freshman is trying to remember his new locker combination while a twelve year old is frantically looking for a seat in the cafeteria. As soon as the bus takes off and the nightmare begins however, parents celebrate the fact that kids are now regularly out of the house for eight hours a day, getting them away from that darn Game Box and freeing up the TV for daytime soaps.

While I can’t say that I blame parents for being excited that their child is going off to middle school, (seriously, have you ever had long-term regularly scheduled contact with a 12-14 year old? I don’t recommend it without ear plugs or sleeping pills,) I’ve always found it annoying when parents get so relieved that their kid has much less time for gaming. They think that all that time mashing buttons over the summer somehow systematically sucks IQ points from the brain, turning kids into delinquent dimwits through hypnotic video rays or something. That’s not how gaming works. A lot can be gained and not much, besides some time, is lost.

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Imagine your favorite celebratory song with this picture

 

One of the biggest complimentary developments through gaming is perseverance. Without it, no one would ever make it through a new game. Part of playing a game is sometimes losing. With older games for the NES, SNES, and Genesis, losing or dying a few times at the beginning is pretty much guaranteed, and the only way to advance and experience more of your game is to learn to dismiss those losses and stay focuses on the now. Through gaming we learn to not let failed attempts get in the way of achieving a goal. through this process gaming can even shape the developing gamer psyche to enjoy and embrace a true challenge. What makes gaming a great tool for shaping this part of one’s personality is that we know that there is a definite way for the given task to be accomplished. A good game will push and tease you with situations that are at the brink of what you can handle, but they can always be worked out with perseverance. It’s a healthy way to learn to feel satisfied with a challenge.

ghosts and goblinsThere’s no way in hell you’re getting through this game without a strong will and perseverance

 

The other thing that goes hand in hand with the previous example is how games stretch the flexibility of ones creative problem solving abilities. Anyone who has ever played a good puzzle or adventure game can tell you this is true. Games often force us to think outside the box to achieve a seemingly simple goal, whether it’s a simple objective like  “escape from room A to room B” like in portal or dealing with a game-long series of fetch quest and inventory puzzles in an adventure game. The answer is rarely the first route the player thinks of. These exercises in flexible thinking subconsciously carry over to the real world when you regularly give your brain a video game work out. It helps make it possible to approach a strange or unordinary situation with a clear and inquisitive mind. When my crappy shelf unit from Ikea came with two or three parts missing, I found myself a bit excited to experiment with the assembly. It’s situations like this where these teachings are noticed.

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Portal is a great game to stretch your brain a bit

This brain training so to speak helps make another skill possible: strong and easy adaptability.  Games like Castlevania, Mario, and Megaman keep us on our toes and make us adapt to changes that affect what we need to do to make it through the game. We need to be conscious of changing patterns, control, and shifts and hazards in the game environment to be successful.  Luckily, unlike how life sometimes handles things, a good game will give you time to observe or experiment with changes before the newly altered situation becomes become dangerous. This creates a safe atmosphere for a player to experiment with how they adapt. It’s that sort of on-the-fly decision making that is infinitely helpful when the unexpected happens, like getting home when you miss a bus or traveling to a new place.

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Ah, The clock tower, you’ve got to keep an eye on moving platforms while monitoring Medusa Head flight patterns. not an easy task.

There really is so much good that can be absorbed through gaming, and it’s not just about strengthening twitch reflexes and remembering power up patterns. I feel that if parents encouraged games on a structured basis and paid attention, they would see that kids not only learn good things from their favorite hobby, their gaming experiments can help augment and cope with learning itself.

So, if you’re a parent remember, it’s ok to jump for joy as the bus arrives but let your kid have some game breaks today they get home. If you are still in school and living at home, play a game today, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes.