For some reason, the Democratic frontrunner decided video games should be the focus of his ire. In an interview with the New York Times, Joe Biden, the man Republicans seem determined to link with illicit nepotism, called a video game maker a “creep,” disparaged video games as art and spoke about gamemakers as “teaching kids how to kill people.” In the interest of full transparency, here’s his quote:
And you may recall, the criticism I got for meeting with the leaders in Silicon Valley, when I was trying to work out an agreement dealing with them protecting intellectual property for artists in the United States of America. And at one point, one of the little creeps sitting around that table, who was a multi- — close to a billionaire — who told me he was an artist because he was able to come up with games to teach you how to kill people, you know the — —
CW: Like video games.
Yeah, video games.
Also, here’s the total interview. I don’t believe in taking things out of context.
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As a person who has helped make three video games, bonded with some of his best friends over video games, and even somewhat found his own identity while schlepping around vast video game landscapes, I took exception to the former vice president’s characterization. But it’s not the first time that I’ve heard games get attacked.
A good place to start, always, is with the data. Many studies have shown that violent games do not lead to more violent behavior.
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Today, there are more people playing more games for longer times than ever. On average, gamers 26–35 years old play for eight hours 12 minutes per week. This increased more than 25 percent in the last year.
This is also at the same time that the world is becoming ever safer. Crime rates are dropping. Violent crime is down. In fact, young people, these folks playing all these video games, are being called boring and “Generation Sensible.”
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In a study from Dartmouth, researchers found that controlling for all other factors, video games would be no better than tossing a coin at predicting violent behaviors. The study also found that there was a less than 1 percent increase in potentially aggressive behaviors among Asians, but nothing among Hispanics. This sounds insane to me, but I’m providing the link to it as proof:
Metaanalysis of the relationship between violent video game play and physical aggression over time
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This Dartmouth study concludes that there is a correlation between violent video games and physical aggression. Its author states:
“If your kids are playing these games, either these games are having a warping effect on right and wrong or they have a warped sense of right or wrong and that’s why they are attracted to these games.”
If that’s not high and mighty, I’m not sure what is. But Mr. Jay Hull deserves a fair hearing. After all, every technology appears to have long-lasting and unintended consequences — look at leaded gasoline for Pete’s sake.
First, video games are addictive. There are studies about how people can spend hours, days even, playing video games over and over again. Like other addictions, some have died from playing them:
There’s also truth in antisocial behaviors — for many video games are an escape from their realities. This, when overdone, could result in worse conditions in reality while escaping them for a virtual utopia.
Finally, video game playing can lead to inactivity, obesity and physical problems. Some have figured out ways to make game playing into an active, heart-pumping sport, but many sit on the couch and eat junk food while playing for hours.
This last point, though, isn’t particularly different from watching television. And, many studies also show that video games do something more than simply ingesting content for hours on end. Studies have showed that video games can improve coordination, problem-solving skills, memory, and on and on.
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When sitting around with friends one day, they engineers or Ph.D. candidates in advanced sciences, we all realized that a video game helped us learn math. It was a bizarre adventure up a mountain, with progressive difficulty levels that led to the mastery of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. And it was amazing.
There’s a lot to be said for video games being addictive. But they’re not addictive because they’re violent and their players have some warped sense in right and wrong. They’re addictive because their architects have a financial incentive to make them addictive. They’re addictive because they use cognitive psychology to create a state of flow for the user. They’re addictive, largely, because they’re masterpieces in art.
How many items can you think of that need zero explanation at the outset, but yield an incredible experience for the end-user?
More importantly! Why aren’t we using their tricks for things that are of higher social value than entertainment? Education, especially, could benefit from presenting interactive and visual lessons that advance at a pace determined by the user. Education should be a video game.
Or, think of the other use cases — some folks are playing a Tetris-like game to learn how to sequence DNA:
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Others are using it to help make breakthroughs in AIDs research.
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Still more have raised millions of dollars for the World Health Organization and the Prevent Cancer Foundation by inviting a bunch of video gamers to come together and just play their favorite games on Twitch.
Feeling like more ideas on how games can help the world? Listen to Jane McGonigal from the TED stage:
Look people love games. They have for as long as humans could play them. Today, they’re social, high-definition, portable, responsive and, dammit, fun to play.
Why not, Mr. Biden, instead of criticizing video game developers as creeps, and attacking them for unsubstantiated claims about making mass-murdering psychopaths, we take a moment to improve our educational systems by using the same tools that they’ve perfected?