4 Valuable Life Skills You Can Learn From Video Games
When many people think of video games, they think of a fun hobby at best, and an utter waste of time at worst. Maybe they think of those lucky few who make a living playing video games professionally, or for the enjoyment of others. Perhaps they remember stories of those who died in front of the computer screen, ignoring food and hygiene in pursuit of one more level in Minecraft.
But these stories are outliers, and to dismiss video games as useless does them a great disservice.Video games can serve as excellent teaching tools, and I don't just mean in the form of edutainment games for kids. Video games can teach valuable life skills, and in ways where the player is having too much fun to realize that they're learning something that will stand them in good stead in other areas of their lives. These are skills you can use at school, in a job, in all sorts of situations.
There are many different kinds of games where you have to use your time wisely. Do something too quickly, and you can't account for upcoming variables, or you make simple twitchy-fingered mistakes. Wait too long, and your opportunity might pass you by. A lot of real-time strategy (RTS) games are built on making sure you master the art of time if you want to advance in the game. Do you create some basic defense units that will be in place quickly, or do you put your resources into something that will provide better defense but take more to be built, leaving you vulnerable for longer but giving you greater power in the end? Do you attack that enemy's base now, or wait for a more opportune time?
With each mistake you make, you learn. Maybe the strategy you thought was best turned out to have unforeseen consequences. Now you know better for next time, and you learned that relatively in a low-risk way. With video games, rarely is there no reset button; more often than not if you want to start over, the option is available to you. You can try different strategies, different ways of making use of your time, to see what brings the best results.
Just about every kind of game you can think of has an aspect of resource management to it. If you're playing Tetris, your resources are the shapes that fall from the top of the screen; using them properly means figuring out what goes where to best effect. Use your resources poorly, and the screen fills up, you can't do anything more, and the game ends.
Think I'm reaching with that one? How about a more traditional example? In pretty much every role-playing game out there, you can use items. Items which you either find or buy. Buying items means you need money, which you most often get from winning battles. This concept seems almost insultingly basic, and if you have played RPGs before, this isn't something you need to be told. It's something that mirrors real life so closely that you understand, almost instinctively, how it works.
Which is the whole point. In RPGs, if you want an item you can't currently afford, you can set out and win a few more battles and obtain money (and experience) that way. Or you can sell items you already have. Preferably items you don't need anymore. Learning what you do and don't need, and what you can get in exchange for things you no longer need, is an essential part of inventory management in RPGs. So is figuring out whether it is better to spend time on additional battles to gain money and experience, or if it would be better merely to sell off old unneeded items.
There are many games in which trade and commerce are central features. Know that an item can be bought cheaply in one city but sold for much more in another city? Seems like a great way to make some easy profit. However, resources are not just physical things (or virtual representations of physical things). Time is also a resource. You can buy a Doodad for 10 gold pieces in Cityton and sell it for 40 gold pieces in Villageville, but Villageville takes 20 minutes to reach in game. Is that trade worth your time? Are there easier ways to make that money? The deal works out very well if you were going in the direction of Villageville anyway, but if the trip would take you out of your way, then you have to weigh the potential gains with the potential drawbacks.
Opinions are divided on the benefits of multi-tasking, but the truth is that in your day-to-day life, you're going to find yourself doing it a lot whether or not it's beneficial for you. Listening to an audiobook while working out? You're multi-tasking. Buying groceries while mentally rehearsing what you're going to say to your boss in that big meeting tomorrow? Also multi-tasking. Writing notes as you listen to your professor's lecture, while simultaneously tuning out those people in the back of the class who never seem to stop talking? Yup, still multi-tasking.
Rarely do you encounter a video game that doesn't require you to multi-task, at least mentally. Multi-tasking isn't always a matter of actively doing multiple things at once, like trying to juggle 3 balls while walking a puppy and singing ABBA at the top of your lungs (though if anyone wants to link me to a video of something doing that, I'd be grateful). Multi-tasking can be the act of keeping an eye on your character's health bar so you know when to heal them as you dodge and attack a group of enemies, all of which you have to keep track of so that you don't get blindsided. It's knowing where your teammates are so that you don't waste ammunition shooting at an enemy that they're just about to sneak up on and assassinate. It's everything you need to think about while you're playing sports, minus the physical aspects, when you play any sports game. Awareness of environment, teammate strengths and weaknesses and positions, strategies, all of this must go through your mind to be a useful and effective member of the team.
Teamwork and Social Skills
This lesson mostly applies when you're playing games with other people, because social skills aren't always applicable if you're gaming alone. If it's just you and you don't need to interact with anybody, then your teamwork skills aren't going to get much of a workout.
But if you play any cooperative games, you need to know how to coordinate with other team members to do things efficiently and well. MMOs take full advantage of this by often including different character classes for people to play, and requiring balanced parties to defeat certain high-level bosses or to traverse dungeons. It isn't enough to have a team of powerhouses beating down everything in their path if none of them can heal or if the boss in question is immune to physical attacks. Balancing the party and making sure everyone has the required skills for the job also means trusting that somebody has your back if you need it, and knowing you have to have someone's back in return. It's cooperation. Otherwise, you're not a team -- you're just a group.
Even in competition, social skills are needed. How many stories have we all heard of people playing competitive games online and listening to some pre-teen in chat insulting everybody's mother? That kind of person has practically become a trope at this point, something that is stereotyped and yet encountered in dozens of different locations. These people have poorly developed social skills. Plain and simple. I will not make an excuse for them that they are young and don't know better, because chances are they do, and they just want to feel like a big person, insulting somebody in a location where they cannot encounter definite repercussions. They hide behind a safe veil of Internet anonymity. It doesn't matter whether they won or lost a match. It doesn't matter that the aim of the game was to blow up every other player. There are still lines, and most people with decent social skills know where those lines are and when not to cross them. Remembering that the people you play with are still people goes a long way to reminding yourself that they deserve the same respect and consideration that you would give someone you see at school or work.
Most of these lessons sound ridiculous. Knowing when to buy and sell things? Thinking about something while doing something else? Those aren't skills to be learned, right? Those are just things we do every day. Those are human values. We don't need to learn them from video games.
And yet I see both a startling number of people who say that video games can teach nothing, and people who say that they struggle with skills that they admirably demonstrate when applied to virtual situations. Yes, video games tend to have pause buttons whereas real life does not, and so we can put more forethought and planning into our games than we can into our lives. But I still believe there's truth to what I write, and that we don't fully appreciate the skills that we are learning thanks to the video games we play. Skills that can benefit us in school, work, or just figuring out what we need and what we don't need to accomplish our goals. When we discount our hobbies as worthless, we lose sight of the things they give us that we would consider worthy if learned under any other circumstance. Learning resource management from a real-time strategy game is no less valid than learning it through a $400 class at the nearby community college. And the former is probably worlds more fun!