Now here’s something we don’t see often enough. A news item that actually says video games are a good thing. Not only that, but it points out what should be otherwise obvious: that video games are here to stay regardless.
In the halls of Congress, on newspaper opinion pages, in the fevered nightmares of worried parents, the debate continues: Are video games good or bad?
On college campuses, though, the talk has moved on. There, the games are increasingly seen as an important social and cultural force worthy of serious study.
Researchers have investigated whether playing video games improves the speed and accuracy of surgeons. They are doing MRIs to see what happens in the brain when violent games are played. They are developing video games designed to help students retain more of what they learn in the classroom.
In all of this there are echoes from earlier times. When movies and television were young, each was dismissed by critics as a wasteland, the breeding ground for laziness and stupidity among viewers.
“When a new medium arrives, young people are the early adapters,” said Henry Jenkins, director of the comparative media studies program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the nation’s leading video-game thinkers. “Parents are spooked by it because it was not part of their world when they grew up. It gets blamed for all sorts of things.
“But at the end of the cycle, among the people who grew up with it, there is a reappraisal.”
Why does it not surprise me that one of the nation’s leading video game thinkers is a Jenkins? Anyway, the story goes on to mention the various studies that have been done recently showing all manner of positive benefits such as the fact that laproscopic surgeons who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made 37 percent fewer mistakes and were 27 percent faster than those who didn’t and that playing first person shooters will sharply improve peripheral vision and the brain’s ability to track multiple events. One study that involved doing MRI scans on people as they played video games to see what was going in the brain has already produced one rather interesting finding:
Most people can tolerate being in the MRI machine for maybe 20 minutes. It is claustrophobic and loud. But the gamers stayed in for an hour at a time, looking into a mirror positioned above their heads so they could see the video screen set up just outside the scanning tube.
Jenkins is arguably one of the best friends a gamer can have as he’s been a big participant in the debates on video games and violence that have taken place over the years:
After the Columbine school shooting, for example, there was much hand-wringing about whether the games played by the two killers contributed to their actions.
Jenkins, from MIT, has waded into the middle of those discussions, arguing against knee-jerk censorship. He testified before Congress. He appeared on the Phil Donahue show.
Now he’s at the forefront of efforts to expand the dialogue beyond violence and explore the other impacts of video games.
“If all that was ever written about movies was how violent they are, we’d miss everything else they have to offer,” he said.
I’m actually surprised I hadn’t heard of Henry Jenkins before now considering how active he’s been in both the study and defense of video games. Still, it’s good to see some positive coverage for a change.