Are we game enough to accept the positive and negative aspects of gaming? Read on to find out.
Computer gaming has become part and parcel of children's lives. Played at home or at a friend's place or in cyber cafes, gaming has grown in popularity as a form of entertainment. There have been numerous debates about the ill-effects and positives of computer gaming. Parents and other concerned parties have often cried foul with regard to the games being churned out today, claiming that there is too much violence and sex in games. With the advent of next-generation consoles such as Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 into your very living room, it is time to analyse how games benefit or are detrimental to your child's growth.
Computer gaming is a very broad term. Within this, there are a number of sub-categories such as first-person shooters, simulation, strategy, adventure, racing, and edutainment games. Each of these games uses different dynamics for game play and has different effects on the player.
First Person Shooters
First Person Shooters (FPS) is one of the most controversial of the game categories when looking at the pluses of gaming. This is because most of these games depict a lot of violence. The first-person perspective makes the game most engrossing and realistic.
An FPS is built from the perspective of the player. The person is literally interacting one-on-one with elements in the game universe just as he would in real life. All he sees of his on-screen character are his hands and feet. The surrounding scene is similar to what he might have in real life. This perspective makes the game more believable. This real feel may also make the graphic violence more shocking.
Studies show that these games improve eye and hand co-ordination. Players of these games become more aware of their surroundings as they start to scan their environment in a similar manner as do with their game environment. Some FPS games encourage team work and team-building skills. Games such as Team Fortress require a group effort with different players assuming various roles such as leader, medic, and engineer to help the team in succeeding with its mission. They also have the standing rule that innocent lives are not to be taken. Yet for most parents, this is not enough to let their young ones start toting guns even if only on-screen.
Third Person Games
Third Person (TP) games unlike FPS adopt an over-the-shoulder perspective. This gives the player a wider range of view and also helps to disassociate the player slightly from the game universe. This approach is useful when trying to develop a game character as interactions between the game character and other non-playing characters play out like a movie. Game characters interact with each other similar to how actors act out a script in a movie, while non-playing characters are ones who the player cannot control. What we see in game is thus akin to an interactive movie.
TP games come in many varieties. The most common of these are the adventure and role-playing genres. These games are considered to have educational value as they involve puzzle-solving and interactions (anything from gossiping with other non-playing characters to conducting business) within a game universe. Games like the Tomb Raider series are known for their complex three-dimensional puzzles which can be a challenge for even experienced gamers.
Role-playing games are more sequential and alternate turn based. They involve a lot of character development and interaction with non-playing characters. The storyline is crucial to such games, an example of which is the Star Wars game from Lucas Arts, Knights of the Old Republic. This game has an enticing story based in the Star Wars universe, where the player's actions determine the story and the varied outcomes of the game and whether the player ends as a hero or villain!
Strategy Games usually adopt a bird's eye view or a God's eye view of a situation—a player can observe multiple events taking place within the game universe. Often a player will have the ability to rotate his perspective 360 degrees and even zoom in for a closer look.
Games like Rail Road Tycoon develop financial understanding and management decisions, with players having to manage resources and raise capital. Other games like the Sims revolve around social relationships and simulate different real-life scenarios from meeting people, dealing with pesky neighbours, to falling in love or coming to terms with theft and robbery. These games help children understand the consequences of different behaviours. Games like The Movies help to unleash a person's creativity and business skills by letting players shoot their own movie. Players are given access to all resources that is necessary to shoot a movie in real life. From actors to sets to distributors, etc., they are all at the fingertips of the player, to be commanded to make a new blockbuster.
Casual games are games that are usually 2D games that are played for mindless fun. Most causal games are available for free online.
Casual games have absolutely no form of violence. They strengthen positive gaming. Games such as Wild Wild Words help build one's vocabulary, while other games such as 'Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?' and 'Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?' teach a person about geography and history. Casual Games are considered by many to be casual, stress relievers. These games are often played for a short duration like about 15 to 20 minutes.
Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming
Massively Multiplayer Online Games may either adopt a third-person or first-person perspective. These games are solely played online against other human opponents. These games may involve being a Knight and having online quests or just living a peaceful yet prospective business life as a merchant.
There is a trend today towards Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming. These games are entirely based on online or Internet play. They seek to bring gamers together in an online universe and are believed to be a stepping stone in developing social skills and team-building skills. Since players are interacting with other real players, this is a real reflection of actual human temperament and is thus a good building block to understand social dynamics.
The Flip Side
The flip side to gaming is the ill effects involved. Everything needs to be indulged in moderation and computer games are no exception. Computer games often encourage children to enjoy a more individualised form of indoor entertainment, thus making them give up healthy outdoor entertainment. This has both physical and social ramifications. Such children typically exercise less, and they usually interact with others in a virtual world, rather than in real life.
Games are accused of instigating violence. Titles such as Rock Star Games, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, indulge players in a virtual life of crime, violence, and sex, which parents complain, may have real-life reflections. Others feel that FPS tends to promote trigger-happy teens.
There does seem to be a more responsible approach by companies to gaming today. Games are not only rated for their content, but we now have software that can regulate access to, who gets to play certain games, and for how long. Even Windows Vista, the latest version of the Windows operating system from the stable of Microsoft, has integrated such a system into its game management software. The operating system has a game filter which allows parents to specifically restrict games to be played by certain users only. So, though the teen in the house can play FEAR on the computer, the ten-year-old, who plays NFS Carbon on the same computer, will not be able to start FEAR.
At the end of the day, computer games have become just another form of entertainment. They target a wide spectrum of audience and have ratings for each. If a game is played by a target audience that it is not meant for, it is akin to a kid watching an adult-rated movie. Thus responsible gaming, in moderate amounts, is what is required today.