The road to Oblivion

September 15, 2006 | 89 comments
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If you want to write the great Mormon novel, or the great Mormon dissertation, don’t play video games.

That I don’t have such lofty aspirations does not make me any less a hypocrite, though. For the last couple decades, my poison of choice, whenever I could get it, has been fantasy computer role-playing games, from Ultima III to Darksun to Might and Magic VI to Morrowind (twice, once to play the main quest, and once to win the game without completing the main quest). Give me an RPG with a mostly open-ended plot and a spacious virtual world to explore, and I’ll be happy for weeks at a time. My computer upgrade plans are largely driven by the prospect of playing Oblivion, sequel to Morrowind, an RPG that overwhelms the computing power of most currently existing PC’s.

I’m not specifically concerned by the content of video games, which span the same range from venal to toxic as found in movies and television. When I was 14, a guest lecturer came to our stake. I introduced myself afterwards, and he gave me a lengthy discourse on the devilishness of Dungeons and Dragons, although I hadn’t mentioned gaming at all; looking back, it’s pretty clear the guy was nuts. But pencil-and-paper gaming was never an attraction for the same reason that online multiplayer RPG’s are not a temptation: they require you to interact with other people. But the whole point of video games is to avoid all human interaction for a few hours, isn’t it? Taken to extremes, computer gaming can be as isolating as locking yourself in your room and reading T.S. Eliot to yourself while listening to the Doors, if not necessarily any worse for your social life.

The time you can waste on computer games is one part of the reason anyone who hopes to accomplish anything significant should avoid them. Art and scholarship require time; if you waste it on computer games or anything else, you won’t get anything written. But this by itself doesn’t make computer games any worse than napping or gardening, and we all need a break from our labors every now and then. Sometimes computer games can even provide useful insights about the Gospel, and Orson Scott Card was inspired to write a novel by Civilization.

But why take a year or two to write a whole novel about the Aztecs taking over the world when it’s much more immediately satisfying to play Civilization and watch the whole thing unfold before your eyes in a matter of hours? Or, rather than merely watching, why not guide the unfolding of History with your own hand?

And that is the problem. Most adults can reliably distance themselves from the words in a novel or the scenes in a movie, but nothing appears to happen in a computer game without the consent and action of the player. The illusion of video games is that the player is the author driving the action. It’s only an illusion, of course; the rules of the game are coded into its fabric in advance. If you play Civilization, for example, you can’t escape a world in which religion is no more than an opiate for the masses. A movie might make us happy or sad, but only people with an unhealthy susceptibility to suggestion will walk out of the theater feeling like they themselves have accomplished something. With video games, however, the chemical byproducts of achievement that wash through our blood after beating the level, completing the quest, or conquering the world are very real. Why bother to write a novel when it feels just as good to play Civilization for twelve hours?

What the game player seeks, and what computer games excel at providing, is mastery, the feeling that we are overcoming obstacles, overpowering enemies, increasing in power and glory. Video games must strike a balance between providing an apparent challenge and the means to overcome it, between novelty of hindrance and monotony of successful outcome, but game publishers have become quite proficient at achieving this balance. To play video games is to engage in self-medicating oneself with miniscule doses of mastery. The reward system in Diablo II, where slight enhancements to weapons and armor are arduously gathered in order to more effectively combat enemies that gain in strength at much the same pace, strikes me as nearly sado-masochistic, with the player as the willing victim. Playing RPG’s also indulges our consumerist fantasies of access to constant life upgrades, while presenting a distorted simplification of meritocracy. Getting ahead in life takes years of hard work. Achieving godlike supremacy in Morrowind takes maybe a hundred hours of your time but is nearly unavoidable. I can think of no other activity where the gulf between perceived and actual accomplishment is so vast. Almost any other activity you can imagine has more real-world value than playing video games.

Also, my wife points out that there are few less sexy things a male can do than sit on a couch, game controller in hand, rocking from side to side as he blasts aliens in a virtual world. Cooking skills are sexy. Conversation skills are sexy. Showing your date how you got that high score is the opposite of sexy.

But I would really like to feel good about playing Oblivion. Somebody help me out here.

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89 Responses to The road to Oblivion

  1. Russell Arben Fox on September 15, 2006 at 8:32 am

    I can’t help you out here Jonathan. I am and always have been a strictly old-school, pencil-and-paper, hang-out-with-other-like-minded-geeks gamer. If I may be allowed to vent my ill-informed prejudices entirely, I am quite certain that addicts to computer RPGs like yourself are not only apostates, but quite possibly have mental problems as well. But I know you think the same about me, so it’s all good.

    Can you remember the name of the guy that came to your stake way back when? I’ve actually been thinking about a Dungeons and Dragons post for a while, long before the recent comments on the blog, as a way to honor the utterly geeky aspect of the relationship between us Fox brothers whenever we get together. But I can’t write that post until I can remember the name of the doofus who came to our stake when I was 14, scared us all to death, and resulted in D&D being banned in our home for about nine months or so.

  2. Kevin Winters on September 15, 2006 at 9:30 am

    I’ve also been ‘seduced’ by RPG gaming, though I go for the online multi-player kinds (currently, City of Heroes). Throughout the large majority of my day my mind is racing: thinking about various things from Heidegger to the unconscious to what I will be eating that night to how to help my wife if she’s having a hard time to thinking about my classes to etc., etc., etc. When I imerse myself in my games, however, my thoughts calm down. I can focus exclusively on an activity that (admittedly) requires little brain power (hence the mental relaxation) but can also be fun. Of course, the times when it is not fun (when it is frustrating or feels like it is going way too slow) prove counterproductive in pretty much every sense (does it build character?). But, again, my primary benefit is that it helps me calm my mind for at least a little bit of time. Sometimes that is a very useful thing to have.

  3. bbell on September 15, 2006 at 10:32 am

    Video games and video game addictions are are a common conversation in my YM’s presidency. Of course from time to time the YM’s leaders will themselves play video games with the kids cause they are fun.

    We think we see a link between excessive video gaming and generally poor outcomes for our YM and have discussed it at length with the boys and the parents.

    Video games like all other vices are OK in moderation in combination with other activities like music, sports, dating etc. But a true video game addiction can really have a negative impact on a YM development.

    Oh and per the end of the original post. The hardcore gamers are really not attracting the ladies.

  4. Sue on September 15, 2006 at 10:51 am

    I deliberately married someone who has no interest in video games. I know there are plenty of ways to waste time out there, but this is one that I think is fairly easily avoided, and one that we won’t have in our home. I realize they’ll eventually get involved in video games through friends, but I’m not going to encourage it here at home and provide all the tools they need to turn themselves into video drones. It seems like such a huge distraction and unnecessarily violent influence in the lives of a lot of young guys. It also seems to contribute to obesity and a lack of interest in other activities. Vast overgeneralization, but anecdotally true in my experience. I’ve been after my mother to get rid of my teenage brother’s extravagant video game setup for months. He needs to dwell a little more in the real world and work on developing social skills, not hunker down in the basement with his similarly pale and listless friends. Ick.

  5. Mark Butler on September 15, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Excellent post and wise words, Jonathan. I spent enough of my spare time in junior high to finish Ultima III. But Ultima IV was interminable, relatively speaking, especially the dungeons. So it was good riddance, and on to better things, especially the wonders of National Review, Sowell, Johnson, and Gilder. That and college and a full time job writing video games for other people to waste their time with.

  6. DHofmann on September 15, 2006 at 11:01 am

    I used to play video games for hours at a time (especially the FPS game Team Fortress Classic) but I had to stop soon after going back to school because they were eating into my homework time. That time was too valuable, and they just couldn’t compete. I have my degree now, but I don’t have the urge to revert back to my gaming ways. (crosses fingers)

    Moral of the story: make commitments that require time off from playing video games.

  7. Mathew on September 15, 2006 at 11:09 am

    In the church I think addiction is the new black.

  8. Mark Butler on September 15, 2006 at 11:15 am

    I think addiction has been black at least since the days of Aristotle and the golden mean.

  9. Frank McIntyre on September 15, 2006 at 11:29 am

    “But I would really like to feel good about playing Oblivion. Somebody help me out here.”

    I have nothing for you, but I think your insight on the actual vs. perceived accomplishment is accurate.

  10. WillF on September 15, 2006 at 11:47 am

    “To play video games is to engage in self-medicating oneself with miniscule doses of mastery.”

    Excellent insight. I would add that to see something you’ve written instantly published online “is to engage in self-medicating oneself with miniscule doses of mastery”

  11. Mark Butler on September 15, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    But a higher order of insignificance to be sure.

  12. Sideshow on September 15, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    All right, Jonathan. Since no one else will take up your challenge, I will.

    Actually, I don’t think Oblivion will be good for you either. But at least I can point to someone who does: Orson Scott Card. Although I don’t agree with him (or the study he’s using) entirely about delayed gratification (you point out it’s a lot less delayed than in the real world) and other points, I suspect playing computer games is better for you than watching TV for the same amount of time. Those who play (some) computer games may well develop better perception (for action games), planning skills (for strategy), or communication skills (for games played as a team). The few times I played Doom with my roommates where we worked together against hordes of monsters were definitely helpful to our communication with each other.

  13. J. Stapley on September 15, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    Copy what Kevin Winter said.

  14. Veritas on September 15, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    Well, I have some particular insight into this, as my husband is a level designer and has many PC titles to his credit, mostly in the FPS genre.

    And, I am personally a women who as beaten Morrowind and Oblivion (and a very long list of other games). I personally am not the biggest fan of RPGs though, Elder Scrolls in my weakness. So, you should not feel guilty about playing. And if men are worried about it, they just need to find some like-minded women who will play with them! Some of the most fun I have with my husband is playing counter strike with him. And my favorite gift from him ever was my DS in which I have logged many hours on the New Super Mario Bros.

    And, for my husband, his endless hours playing games his whole life has really helped him in game design. He has extensive knowledge on games from the past 20 years which has made his design better, and helped him in landing jobs.

    You also have to ask yourself what you would be doing with your time, were you not playing oblivion. I personally think (and studies have been done to suggest) that playing games is a thousand times better than watching tv. You are solving complex problems and puzzles. I think computer games are GREAT for kids. Small children (toddlers) who play games will develop reading skills and hand/eye coordination earlier than other kids. People seem to forget that there are lots of different types of games, and while I LOVE shooters, on of my favorite things to play on my DS is Big Brain Acadamy. But truthfully, mmo’s are great also for social interaction. I personally can’t stand WOW, but, I know multiple people who have made lasting friendships and even met significant others on it (and other games like it).

    People love to put a stigma on video games and make it the scapegoat for all the youth’s problems – this has been happening since the early eighties. But truthfully, video games are usually a fun, interactive social activity.

    So, anyone want to organize a bloggernacle Lan party? :)

  15. Sue on September 15, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    Hmmmmm… Is lack of hand/eye coordination a big problem in America today? I always chuckle when I hear that touted as a benefit.

    I’m not making it the scapegoat, but I have no doubt that it is a contributing factor to the growing problem of childhood obesity. It’s part of a culture that encourages kids to sit around on their butts and watch TV, play video games, mess around on the computer instead of doing something active and more healthy. And there seem to be at least a few studies that agree, here’s just one: http://www.cfah.org/hbns/news/video03-17-04.cfm

    Honestly, video games are probably perfectly fine in moderation, but that seems to be the problem – a lot of people/kids/teens who play have a hard time moderating their playing time.

  16. Mark B. on September 15, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Only one who has never gardened could suggest that playing video games or napping fit into the same category.

    But, this statement saves the post:

    “I can think of no other activity where the gulf between perceived and actual accomplishment is so vast. Almost any other activity you can imagine has more real-world value than playing video games.”

    Actually, the one “real-world” activity that is as valueless as playing video games is what in the quaint olden days was called “self abuse.”

  17. Veritas on September 15, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Acutally, Sue, they now using video games to improve surgeons coordination. I have friend currently in school (is becoming a surgeon), and it is a required element of their studies.

    The obesity people LOVE blaming video games. But, if kids playing games were sitting around munching on carrot sticks instead of french fries, they wouldn’t be getting fat. Sorry.

    Can’t kids play a real life game of basketball and then come inside and play NBA 2k6? Why can’t kids be active and play video games…oh wait, most kids i know ARE. Quit believing the media and politicians who are scapegoating an industry (and industry with LOTS of money that people want a piece of).

    If kids are sitting around getting fat, its because they have parents who work too much that feed them fast food and let entertainment raise them. Quit blaming games.

  18. Kevin Barney on September 15, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    I”m not a gamer, but I had three thoughts when I read your post:

    1. “What the game player seeks, and what computer games excel at providing, is mastery, the feeling that we are overcoming obstacles, overpowering enemies, increasing in power and glory.”

    Sounds like virtual deification to me. Theopoesis, anyone? (In fact, what a great idea for a game; we could call it “Becoming God.”)

    2. “Almost any other activity you can imagine has more real-world value than playing video games.”

    This reminds me of the Far Side cartoon, where the geeky boy is lying on the floor playing video games, and his proud parents are beaming over him. In their thought bubble is a help wanted page from a newspaper, loaded with ads offering very high salaries for Nintendo playing experts. Of course, you have to imagine this with Gary Larson’s goofy artwork to get the full effect.

    3. “Also, my wife points out that there are few less sexy things a male can do than sit on a couch, game controller in hand, rocking from side to side as he blasts aliens in a virtual world.”

    Your wife is right of course, On the other hand, you’re already married, so who needs to be sexy? She’s stuck with you now, sexy or no. The moral of the story is caveat coniunx (“let the spouse beware!”).

  19. Julie M. Smith on September 15, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    “I think computer games are GREAT for kids. Small children (toddlers) who play games will develop reading skills and hand/eye coordination earlier than other kids.”

    Do you have any evidence to support this? Because the research that I have read has shown that reading skills suffer when computerized instruction is used. Something about making that transition from colorful, bouncing, blinking, noisy text on a screen to the motionless, silent black-and-white kind in an actual book tends to cause problems that negate any gains the child might have made beforehand. Veritas, you asked Sue to quit blaming games. If she should do this, then you should also quit crediting them for promises they can’t keep.

    FWIW, I’m not anti-games. In our house, it provides a nice cultural currency for my husband and sons. [They are currently counting the seconds until Amazon gets Star Wars Lego II to our house.] But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking they are educational.

  20. Jim F. on September 15, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    Jonathan, I was with you until you said “this by itself doesn’t make computer games any worse than napping or gardening.” What?! You think of gardening as a time-wasting thing (or worse)? That proves that something evil has taken over your brain. Sorry, though, I can’t help you with the video game problem.

  21. bbell on September 15, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    My wife has in her immediate and extended family see quite a bit of gaming addiction. Her three brothers and many of her cousins are hard core gamers. It ain’t a pretty sight to behold. It seems really easy to go from enjoying the occassional night with the boys slaying the bad guys to a full out addiction. The long term impact of the addiction can be scary. Her inactive brother claims that he is so addicted to gaming that his wife divorced him cause that all he did when he came home from work was play Halo.

    Needless to say our gaming system is in the attic.

  22. Veritas on September 15, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    Kevin – it has been done. It is a hugely popular game called Black & White (and black & white 2). Fun game.

    I’m sorry, but to say games are never educational is crazy. I played math blaster when I was in elementary school, as well as Oregon Trail and others. And those games are all still around today, as well as loads of other explicitly educational games. But, even games that are not explicitly educational can teach useful skills and activate parts of the brain that a small child might not be otherwise. Obviously, it doesn’t replace the old fashioned books, but people have been using games to teach kids to read since forever…who cares if they are electronic? Studies are also emerging that casual games in the over 65 age group helps to delay the mental affects of aging. They are particularly usefull in this set because they are less able to be mobile and active physically.
    Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn the conversation to kids & videogames, as that was not the point of the original post I don’t think.
    Oh, and I personally find it very sexy when my husband plays games. Also, why can’t a gamer have cooking skills, conversation skills, AND game skills? now thats sexy…

  23. Veritas on September 15, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Funny, bbell, Halo helped my marriage as we played both games together cooperatively. We had to work together, plus we had fun. Sure was better than watching movies.

  24. Julie M. Smith on September 15, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Veritas, you might want to read this:

    http://www.amazon.com/FAILURE-CONNECT-Computers-Affect-Children/dp/0684855399/sr=8-1/qid=1158348829/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-7555045-7304115?ie=UTF8&s=books

    It will do a good job of answering your question: “people have been using games to teach kids to read since forever…who cares if they are electronic?”

    Is it possible to learn some things from a game? Of course. But to me ‘educational’ implies that the net effect is to promote learning. Three ways this might not happen with ‘educational’ media would be:

    (1) As described in my previous comment above, the media creates mental habits antithetical to learning.
    (2) You play math blaster for three hours and learn 6 new math facts. (i.e., not an efficient use of time).
    (3) You wrote that games can “activate parts of the brain that a small child might not be otherwise.” What parts would these be exactly? Fruther, my concern is that given the highly addictive nature of digital media, this supposed activation will be done at the expense of, say, creating a world from LEGOS, making a fuse bead creation, playing t-ball, learning to manipulate your younger brother out of his pokemon cards, etc.

  25. tyler on September 15, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Veritas–

    I think the evidence in waaaaaaaaay on Sue’s side on this one. While it may be true that some surgical residency programs require video game playing, there are many ways to improve hand-eye coordination.

    More importantly, though, America is in desperate need of ways to lower rates of obesity–ANY way to lower rates of obesity. Over 60% of American adults are currently overweight. Furthermore, 13% of children age 6 to 11 are overwieght as well as 14% of adolescents age 12 to 19. All of those numbers are on the rise.

    Obesity is an epidemic. If you don’t believe me, check any reliable location of health statistics: the negative effects of obesity on health are many and complex.

    Americans eat too much (and the wrong things) and excercise far too litte.

    Are video games to blame? In one sense, of course not–the causes of obesity are varied and interrelated: lifestyle, genes, and upbringing, to name a few. HOWEVER, of all the causes of obesity, video-gaming (and other sedentary activities, such as watching television) is one of the most easily changable. It is difficult to imagine, from a public health standpoint, how any hour spent gaming could not be better spent do anything active–jump-roping, soccering, basketballing, footballing, jogging, hiking, or sitting up. Anything that is active is better than anything sedentary.

    For that reason, as well as the one outlined by WillF (#10), I think I’ll be blogging less (:

  26. tyler on September 15, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    I would argue with Julie tha gaming detracts from our ability to appreciate real experience. Video games create a virtual reality stripped of the vitality that energizes real life–I think we lose some of our ability to appreciate the vitality when we immerse ourselves in video-games.

    Further, our time here is not our own but, in a sense, a stewardship. Might we spend some few hours gaming as a way to decompress or bond with others? Sure. But when it becomes addictive, when it detracts from other more important activities, I would argue we waste our stewardship. This is possible in a thousand different ways (including blogging), but that does not make it more acceptable.

  27. Jonathan Green on September 15, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Jim, Mark B., if you could see my garden, you would understand. We utterly failed to grow corn–in Illinois, in a plot surrounded on three sides by corn fields. For me, gardening represents a futility of effort on the order of finishing Zelda.

    I think Kevin Winters has come up with the best justification for computer gaming so far–a false sense of accomplishment is better than feeling worthless or angry. I’ve been in situations before where I needed to tune out the real world for a while and take out some real anger on virtual targets, and Daggerfall worked well. Computer games can be one way of smiling frowns away.

    Kevin, “god games” are a fairly healthy genre. Not my thing, but I could suggest a few popular titles.

  28. Veritas on September 15, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    1) I dont believe this, but rather think it to be a popular view of people who dislike technology. Watching TV – with 20 second sound bites etc. is bad. Delving into a game where you are figuring out complex puzzles, concentrating for hours, while actually having the reward of it being FUN instead of TEDIUS (hence why math blaster is awesome for most kids, who simply will not just sit and do pages of math facts – talking about sucking a kids will to live).

    3)This is where the parents come in, obviously. There is no reason why playing video games has to replace playing t-ball or building with legos (or reading or anything else – except maybe watching tv). And actually, nintendo has developed several games designed to promote brain activity. Big brain acadamy (a came played in competition with other players) and Brain Age. You can bet there is much more of this coming out in the next few years.

  29. Julie M. Smith on September 15, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    (1) Veritas, you can say you don’t believe but evidence bears it out. You point out that it is fun, but that’s half the problem: of course math blaster is more fun than a worksheet. Do you think that math class the next day will be MORE or LESS engaging to a child who played math blaster the day before?

    (2) Veritas, in a 24-hour day, there is every reason why one hour spent playing a video game “has to replace” time spent doing other things. Again, I am not anti-games and my kids do play them. However, I don’t claim that they are educational–they are pure recreation. A parent who counts any hour in front of the computer as ‘educational’ time instead of ‘leisure’ time is lying to themselves, even if Nintendo has gotten clever enough to market their products as educational.

  30. Ryan on September 15, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Sooo.. if hardcore gamers can’t get girls.. isn’t hardcore gaming on the same level as same sex marriage? Both practices preclude multiplying and replenishing the earth…. where is the church on this issue!!?!

  31. gst on September 15, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    “Also, why can’t a gamer have cooking skills, conversation skills, AND game skills? now thats sexy…”

    And bowstaff skills.

  32. Sue on September 15, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    Again, I think that gaming, IN MODERATION, is probably not a harmful way to relax. But in your own post you say, “concentrating for HOURS.” Kids shouldn’t be sitting in front of a screen for hours on end, no matter what the purpose. They just shouldn’t.

    And there are plenty of ways to develop math and reading skills that don’t involve plunking them down in front of a screen again.

  33. S. P. Bailey on September 15, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    (1) Between dungeons and dragons and now hardcore videogaming, the geek self-outing over the past few days has been nothing short of spectacular. Of course, all of us are geeks for being here in the first place. So why do I feel like I am finally getting to know so many bloggers for the first time? Bowstaff skills, indeed.

    (2) “[M]y wife points out that there are few less sexy things a male can do than sit on a couch, game controller in hand, rocking from side to side as he blasts aliens in a virtual world.” My sexiness has not been compromised in this manner. But I believe you based on that sequence in Prime in which the Uma Thurmon character gives her lover a game console, which causes him to pass on, well, an evening as Uma Thurmon’s lover. Do we need further proof that video games make at least some people stupid and/or crazy?

    (3) Claims that videogaming is morally equivalent to napping, gardening, or even other forms of consumption strike me as laughable. My gut feeling is that the hours and dollars simply wasted gaming (yes wasted! not directed to anything more productive than Jonathan’s false feeling of accomplishment!) is not comparable at all to hours and dollars spent elsewhere. I have read that videogaming is now a $14 billion + industry in the United States. That money could feed the hungry. Or atleast go to much more worthy forms of entertainment. Jonathan speaks about writing the great Mormon novel. Is such a thing possible without perceptive Mormon readers willing to invest their time and money in them? How many intelligent Mormons regularly pour hundreds into new consoles and games, but haven’t ever put down $10 and 10 hours for a Mormon novel? Consumption—the way we spend our disposable income and leisure time—is a zero-sum game. Video games, in my opinion, too often crowd out much better alternatives.

    (4) A gift my parents gave me: they obstinately refused to permit video games into their home. By the the time I was on my own, I couldn’t muster the slightest interest in them. I intend to give my kids the same gift! Some parents with serious reservations regarding videogaming here and elsewhere insist that they are not anti-gaming and that their children do get to play them. The subtext seems to be that simply saying “no video games, I think they are a pointless money pit [or potentially addictive, or too sedentary, or too distracting from activities I consider much more worthwhile, etc., etc.”] would be beyond the pale. Why is that? Fear of looking uncool? Fear that kids will rebel?

    (5) The defenses of videogaming that have been presented so far have said nothing more than: (1) they are fun, (2) they have mildly positive side-effects, and (3) (implied) my family makes money from them. Faint praise in my opinion. The same can be said for many, many alternative activities that do not come with the many downsides of video games.

  34. Julie M. Smith on September 15, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    S.P. Bailey,

    I think your #4 might be addressed, at least partially, to me, so I’ll answer. I have no qualms about making my kids look uncool. I allow them to play video games for the following reasons:

    (1) The lure of forbidden fruit is strong. I would hope that some exposure in the home will moderate that. I want them to learn that they can enjoy them and only play one hour per day and develop the habit of playing without letting it use huge amounts of time. I

    (2) In our house, video games (or any screen time–Tv, etc.) happen for an hour in the evening *if* all chores and school work is finished. Hence, we have minimal opposition to those things in this house. I see this as a fair exchange for their presence.

    j

  35. Veritas on September 15, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    I have put money down on mormon novels and pretty much always regretted it. If mormons quit worrying so much about writing mormon novels, they may do as Orson Scott Card, for example, and just produce…well, good books! (same goes for movies).

    Video Games provide not just a form of FAMILY entertainment, but also a form of artistic and literary expression. It is a relatively new media, and as all new media always have, has all everyone up in arms about how its of the devil and making our kids stupid or fat or whatever.

    And if the positives of video games were simply and only that they are fun, then they have served their purpose. I believe, at least for some games, that interactive media can provide so so much more than just fun, but, even if thats it, then, I think they are still great. What is wrong with something fun?? I would be interested, SP Bailey, what you feel more worthy forms of entertainment are?
    Board games? Card games? A game of tag? Video games aren’t just sitting infront of a screen, they are GAMES! They carry the same rules and appeal.

    Please please quit spreading the myth that video games and gamers are loner guys who can’t get girls and waste their life and ruin marriage. Literally EVERYONE I know and associate with could be considered a hard-core gamer (including myself) and we are all married, have girlfriends/boyfriends, and our ‘hardcore’ gaming is a very social activity. Some of us are also are very active church members, and have lots of other hobbies. Personally, I get bored playing games by myself. Its a general rule of game design, actually, that games with a single-player mode only, are a big risk. People like playing online, coopertively, in teams, and competively.

    If I wanted to be a socially handicapped loner, I would read a book.

  36. Seth R. on September 15, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Julie,

    Just you wait until my Necormancer hits level 90 and gets an “Enigma runeword.”

    Then you’ll be sorry you ever questioned my powers.

    And I have always felt my Javelin-Amazon’s “Lightning Fury” skill makes me a better lawyer.

  37. gst on September 15, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    My dad had the right approach. He came home from work one day and asked my younger brother, who was playing his Mario Brothers game at the time, if he would do some household chore. My brother gave the fatal response: “As soon as I finish this level.” My dad went to the tool shed, selected a five pound hammer, went to back the living room, obliterated the video game machine, and then asked, “How about now?” That was my brother’s last last video game system. True story.

  38. Ivan Wolfe on September 15, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    I ban myself from all video/computer games during the semester. Otherwise, I’d never get term papers written or books read.

    And now, with this dissertation – well. . . . .

    Of course, that means during Christmas break, I tend to overdose on games.

  39. S. P. Bailey on September 15, 2006 at 7:30 pm

    Video games are “a form of artistic and literary expression,” and people who read books are “socially handicapped loner[s]?”

    Barbarians at the gate! No wait, they are inside! Oh, decadent post-civilization! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  40. jjohnsen on September 15, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    “FWIW, I’m not anti-games. In our house, it provides a nice cultural currency for my husband and sons. [They are currently counting the seconds until Amazon gets Star Wars Lego II to our house.] But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking they are educational.”
    Great, great game. My daughter and I have been playing together, it’s so much fun.

    “That money could feed the hungry. Or atleast go to much more worthy forms of entertainment. Jonathan speaks about writing the great Mormon novel. Is such a thing possible without perceptive Mormon readers willing to invest their time and money in them? How many intelligent Mormons regularly pour hundreds into new consoles and games, but haven’t ever put down $10 and 10 hours for a Mormon novel? Consumption—the way we spend our disposable income and leisure time—is a zero-sum game. Video games, in my opinion, too often crowd out much better alternatives.”
    Do you spend any money on entertainment? Because if you calculate the number of hours you can get out of a game, it’s much cheaper than a movie. And buying most Mormon novels is a waste of money, I gave up on that long ago. I get them from the library instead after being burned so many times by crap sold at Deseret Book.

    I have to laugh at the people that say videogamers are less attractive. How old are you? Most of the men AND women I know play video games in some form or another, usually replacing television watching time. My wife and I pass Brain Age and New Super Mario Brothers back and forth after the kids are in bed and we want to relax. Nintendo says 44% of the people that buy the Nintendo DS are women (which is reflected by the games they make including cooking games and other types that are geared toward women). My youngest sister says most of her girlfriends play games on their phones between classes. Games are not only played by geeky, pasty, loser boys anymore.

    I’d like to echo Veritas on one point, what’s the harm in having fun, and can we honestly say games are worse than movies, television, Monopoly, or church ball? You might point to obesity, but is that the faulty of video games? How much weight are people losing laying on the couch reading? As with everything else in my childrens life, we set guidelines. They aren’t doing homework for eight hours a day, they aren’t over at a friends house eight hours a day and they aren’t playing video games eight hours a day.

    I do have to disagree about games being educational. We let my daughter play educational games on a restricted basis, but in no way do they replace her regular homework or reading. It can be difficult to find games that teach more than they entertain, so many of my concerns are the same as Julie. I see them as a harmless distraction, but have never tried to fool myself into thinking they are educational.

    Majorly OT, what games has your spouse worked on Veritas? Anything we might have heard of? I promise I won’t get all slobbery if it’s one I’ve played.

  41. worm on September 15, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    I see video games as just another form of art. As such, they have the potential to be morally harmful or a waste of time, but they also have just as much potential for meaningful expression and artistic value as any other medium.

    I think that part of the reason video games are so easy to disregard and view as a lesser art form is that they are so new. (What did people think of film when it was as old as video games are now?) I can empathize with someone who generally chooses to avoid them, as I personally avoid television for what are probably similar reasons. But I can’t help thinking that someone who has only a negative opinion of video games has seen only the worst examples. Just like popular music and films, the titles you hear about and find easily in stores are by no means the best the medium has to offer.

    Again, video games are new and still evolving. Because of this, there isn\’t yet a base of known “classics” to refer to in illustrating their value. But there are good examples out there. Not all video games involve guns or poorly-written RPG-style experiences, or are simply intended as a diversion or a challenge.

    On the topic of kids and games, here’s something I found pretty insightful: Should Kids Play Games?

  42. jjohnsen on September 15, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    “Video games are “a form of artistic and literary expression,â€? and people who read books are “socially handicapped loner[s]?â€?

    Barbarians at the gate! No wait, they are inside! Oh, decadent post-civilization! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. ”
    I disagree people who read books are socially handicapped loners, I prefer a book over a game in most cases. But do you disagree that games, like movies and novels, can be forms of artistic expression?

  43. DHofmann on September 15, 2006 at 9:20 pm

    “You might point to obesity, but is that the faulty of video games? How much weight are people losing laying on the couch reading?”

    Not as much as if they were playing Dance Dance Revolution, I’m pretty sure.

  44. cinepro on September 15, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Here’s your post in musical-comedy form:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1329362959167995041&q=tripod+video+games&hl=en

    Be sure to listen to the whole thing.

  45. queuno on September 15, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    Video games are just this generation’s replacement for “Panzer Blitz” and DoD.

  46. jjohnsen on September 15, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    Are we posting video game related videos? If so, here’s proof the video games my daughter plays aren’t sedentary. http://www.johnsenclan.com/johnsenclan/s_playing_games.html

  47. Barb on September 15, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    It\’s way better to have my kids playing each other and their dad on their computers at home in games they programmed and worlds they developed on networks they create with each other – yelling at each other of course from their different desks- than \”hanging out\” with a gang of kids (we were there once) doing who knows what, who knows when.

    Gaming in our house is an exercise in intelligence, and cooperation. We all game. We all talk about our games. My teenage son developes really cool ways to beat the game programs. And excuse me but it is NO WORSE than spending everyweekend on the sofa watching some stupid game of some variety of men with sticks and balls. I did not say playing sports. I said watching, for hours.

    I used to read avidly. Due to health problems with neck and eyes I can\’t read, or garden for that matter anymore. I have since found that I was way more antisocial and unavailable when wrapped up in a book, than when I play my games while talking with my kids or showing my grandchildren how to type to help me play my game.

    I have absolutely no problems with gaming- but like anything else (even water) too much can hurt you. And I love Oblivion. It is wonderful.

  48. S. P. Bailey on September 15, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    “And if the positives of video games were simply and only that they are fun, then they have served their purpose� and “what’s the harm in having fun[?]�

    Forget more nuanced arguments about the merits of different entertainment choices and their cultural significance. I have been exposed as anti-fun. It’s true. I am the anti-fun candidate. Opposed to fun in all its forms. Yet hold on, fun-istas! Why should I bear the burden of explaining what’s wrong with fun? Why don’t you explain to me the significance (spiritual, cultural, whatever) of fun? In what sense is a civilization that spends billions upon billions of dollars on “funâ€? not profoundly decadent?

    “[I]f you calculate the number of hours you can get out of a game…”

    So value = money spent + time spent? Are you saying that you come out ahead by wasting more, not less, time on video games? And does your equation account for quality or meaningfulness or productivity of time spent? A great book or film does things for me that no game I am aware of, electronic or otherwise, can do.

    “And buying most Mormon novels is a waste of money.�

    Maybe so. This is also true of most novels not connected to Mormonism. Critical judgment is required. And surely blanket avoidance of Mormon novels is not a very thoughtful response to discouragement with Deseret Book faire. There are good Mormon works out there. And there would be many more if their authors were rewarded by only a fraction of the time and money smart Mormons sink into video games.

    “I have to laugh at the people that say videogamers are less attractive.”

    Who said this? I certainly didn’t. Charming people can have bowstaff skills.

    “[C]an we honestly say games are worse than movies, television, Monopoly, or church ball[?]�

    Certainly movies, television, and board games can be just as insipid as video games. Quality within form matters, and like I said, great books and film have power that I have never encountered in any game. As far as church ball goes, well, I can’t recommend it. Too dangerous. Perhaps the only place on earth where you can get your arm torn clean off by men so holy they would rather die than taste coffee.

    “But do you disagree that games, like movies and novels, can be forms of artistic expression?�

    I have my doubts. Yet I am willing to be convinced. Name any and all video games that qualify as significant “artistic� or “literary� expression. Bonus points for convincing me that any game that involves the evisceration, decapitation, mutilation, or defenestration of aliens, goblins, zombies, or trolls somehow belongs in the same conversation with Shakespeare and Dante or Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

  49. Sideshow on September 15, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    gst(#37): so I guess that’s evidence that video games do encourage violence?

    jjohnsen and Julie: you claim that games aren’t educational because they’re not as educational as more direct education. Of course they aren’t as educational to the point where they replace homework time, but I don’t think that’s at issue. Three hours spent playing math blaster and learing 6 math facts is learning 6 more math facts than the kid would have learned in the three hours because otherwise they wouldn’t have spent those three hours studying math in their spare time.

  50. JKS on September 16, 2006 at 1:57 am

    Video games are better than watching TV because they are more interactive & you burn more calories. However, I also think they are more addictive and require more time invested.
    My husband’s chemotherapy was pure hell and I became truly concerned for his emotional health, so I am grateful to Everquest because life was better for him because of it.
    Men used to have a little more adventure than they get now in their cubicles at work. I think wanting to enjoy a little fake adventure is fine. Usually it comes down to are you using money and time that you actually can afford to “waste” on the hobby? If so, then no problem. But if you exceed your $ budget or time budget it takes away from the more important things in your life.

  51. Jonathan Green on September 16, 2006 at 3:24 am

    Unfortunately, I need to remind everyone that in this case, it really is only a game. Please be respectful of others’ opinions, which really do reflect how things have worked out, for better or worse, in their own experience.

    I think the most disturbing educational game I ever saw was a mid-90’s edition of Math Blaster. It meant to teach geometry, but ended up teaching a completely different lesson in the module featuring an alien polymorph with a “come hither” look and the song, “She’s a Shape Shifter.”

  52. Julie M. Smith on September 16, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Sideshow wrote, “Three hours spent playing math blaster and learing 6 math facts is learning 6 more math facts than the kid would have learned in the three hours because otherwise they wouldn’t have spent those three hours studying math in their spare time.”

    But they weren’t studying math for three hours. It takes no more than 15 minutes to learn 6 math facts. So the net effect was: 2 3/4 hours play and 15 minutes work. And the net effect of that 2 3/4 hours play time being devoted to electronic media includes: obesity issues (as mentioned) and future learning problems related to the expectations that electronic media creates and the missed opportunity of whatever else they may have done with the time (built a fort, rode a bike, etc.)

    Again, I’m not anti-gaming (in reasonable doses). I’m anti-claiming-gaming-is-educational.

  53. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 16, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Veritas — I know some LDS designers. Do you live in the metroplex?

    “I think computer games are GREAT for kids. Small children (toddlers) who play games will develop reading skills and hand/eye coordination earlier than other kids.�

    My six year old, when she was in kindergarden, hit about fourth grade reading skills playing games. Of course they were all Edutainment games. Reader Rabbit, Dora the Explorer, etc. She wanted to try Starlancer and Privateer, but gave up on them and went back to the edutainment. She did a little DDR (Dance Dance Revolution), but the PS2 gets used to play DVDs more than anything else — and that maybe once a month.

    Veritas, you can say you don’t believe but evidence bears it out. You point out that it is fun, but that’s half the problem: of course math blaster is more fun than a worksheet. Do you think that math class the next day will be MORE or LESS engaging to a child who played math blaster the day before?

    More, at least for some children, at least the one I observed.

    my Javelin-Amazon’s “Lightning Fury� skill makes me a better lawyer.

    Hmm, should I mix too much humor with serious points in one post?

    But, life is busy. Blogging and gaming are similar in many ways, and I see them as substitutes in many ways as well.

  54. Veritas on September 16, 2006 at 10:53 am

    Well, Julie your kids must be really smart. When I was a kid, and most of the kids I know, learning math facts is an extremly difficult activity that causes low confidence in school. That is why games like math blaster exist…sorry to get so hung up on that one game. Because for some kids, 15 minutes just doesn’t cut it. Thats probably why parents got for their kids in the first place – because they are doing poorly in math!

    Bonus points for convincing me that any game that involves the evisceration, decapitation, mutilation, or defenestration of aliens, goblins, zombies, or trolls somehow belongs in the same conversation with Shakespeare and Dante or Rembrandt and Van Gogh”

    Because their was no violence or goblins or anything in Shakespeare or Dante or Rembrandt. Do you think Tolkien is art? HP Lovecraft? I know multiple games that were directly inspired by the writing of Dante, Tolkien, Lovecraft, Poe….as well as Shakespeare. Talking about pure aesthitics – Oblivion is one of the most beautiful games to come out. I would also urge you to check out Elektroplankton that is on the DS.

    JJohnson – my husbands most recent game comes out oct. 24 – it is the expansion pack to FEAR. He now works for Monolith – so you can see what hes working on from their titles. He also created the popular Dodgeball:Source mod which you can google and check out the webite, if you are so inclined.

  55. jjohnsen on September 16, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    Neat, I loved FEAR and am looking forward to the expansion.

  56. S. P. Bailey on September 16, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    “Because their [sic] was no violence or goblins or anything in Shakespeare or Dante or Rembrandt. Do you think Tolkien is art? HP Lovecraft? I know multiple games that were directly inspired by the writing of Dante, Tolkien, Lovecraft, Poe….as well as Shakespeare.”

    Yes, but how do these derivative works differ from their sources? Are they substantially different from video games based on less significant material? Violence, goblins, and their ilk also appear in trashy movies and cartoons, but that doesn’t make them, or the video games they spawn, art.

    Still, I would be interested in checking out the beauties of Oblivion and Elektroplankton. Is there a way of doing so without dropping hundreds of dollars on consoles and games?

  57. Seth R. on September 16, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    You do what you have to Stephen.

  58. WillF on September 16, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    Put down the Mormon novels, turn off the TV, give away your video game system, and pick up a musical instrument. You can enjoy playing it in single-player mode (solo, with play-along recordings, ) and multi-player (chamber, band, jam-session). It gives you doses of self-mastery. Record yourself and play it back and you can play a game where you win when it finally sounds right. The media is inexpensive (sheet music) and plentiful, and when you master it, you can play it back for others and they might even get something from it.

  59. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 16, 2006 at 11:14 pm

    Veritas — did you know that Sandy Petersen, used to be at iD, now at Ensemble (and before that, did the original Call of Cthulhu) is LDS? Active, his son Grant is currently serving a mission in Seattle — was dating my daughter before he left.

    Seth R. — I was pretty sure doing what I had to do meant sticking with frozen orb sorcs ;) Though I did run a pre-patch Necro who made good use of boots. I left before then, but I understand they revitalized frozen orb and cold mastery.

    Jonathan — can you give us a link to Oblivion? I’m afraid Kingdom Hearts and DDR is pretty much as far as anyone got on PS2 games at the house, the kids just got too busy to play more than that. I got too busy or I’d have finished Age of Mythology. I wish I had time for video games. At least I can look at the advertisements. :)

  60. a random mom on September 17, 2006 at 3:28 am

    Hallelujah WillF!

    Only, I am married to a mormon writer so I better keep a few of those novels around.

  61. random me on September 17, 2006 at 6:37 am

    i find most of the pro-gaming claims here absolutely laughable… and that’s coming from a family with a ps2, xbox, AND gamecube (and no cable tv, no tv channels accesible by rabbit ears, and no home internet access!). none are kept out and while we frequently hear about the “benefits” of our toddlers playing video games, they don’t. i would say it was comical to promote the benefits of small children playing video games, but frankly, the thought of it literally makes me sick.

    i do occasionally play video games with my husband, but he’s the main user of those consoles. he uses them wisely and well… well, as well as you can, considering what they are, haha. we have had MANY acquaintances who have had marital issues because husband was unable to tune out from the games and back into real life. (my husband is former military, where many of the guys spent long deployments playing video games, then were unable to readjust to homelife without their consoles.) i’ve been fortunate enough (chose well enough?) to have a husband who will spend an hour on a game only to click the off button (without saving!) if the kids or i need something. he works a bizarre schedule and usually only plays when we’re asleep and he’s just come off an adrenaline-pumping late shift. he likes the transition. he would never, ever tout his gaming as beneficial in any way other than giving him something to do besides read a book that late at night.

    the only anecdotal experience i have, other than my husband’s, when it comes to gaming is a close cousin… well, his siblings are close, but he spent most of his childhood cloistered in a dark room, playing video games, so none of us had the chance to develop the relationships with him we would have liked. he met his wife playing everquest online and thank goodness for that… dunno how’d he ever have found someone otherwise. unfortunately, adulthood has done little to curb his playing, to the point of neglecting his children (he was the stay-at-home parent). he became bad enough that his parents, from 3000 miles away, had to get involved, worried about the care of their grandchildren (who are now all in daycare and his parents now kick themselves for not nixing the games when he was younger). he and his wife, as wonderful as she is, have computers set up side-by-side and love each other dearly, but neither has any friends outside of the computer, both are socially inept, and both fit the “pasty and overweight” stereotype. seems like such an easy thing to avoid and yet that’s often not the case.

  62. Jonathan Green on September 17, 2006 at 8:29 am

    Stephen, a link to Oblivion? d00d, I’d give you a 24-hour full leech account on the multi-T3+ T&S European HQ 0-day distro server, but W1lfri3d’s already on my case for letting the BCC crew beat us to a fully cracked ISO release of Infobase GospelLibrary 2006.

    Oh, you don’t mean that kind of link? Try here.

  63. Veritas on September 17, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Stephen – we totally know his name (practically a legend – along with Romero and American McGee), but I did not realize he was mormon (though, with that name, should have been obvious lol). I didn’t know where you meant when you said metroplex – Im guessing now Dallas? Anyway, Sandy only worked on the most influential games ever made (hello-Quake, Doom, Wolfenstien 3D) My husband is sitting here freaking out that he’s mormon. So, uh, you know if you could arrange an introduction… j/k

    random me – everything you said about your family members, is well…just plain mean. You shouldn’t be so judgemental.

  64. Mark Butler on September 17, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    I think computer games were more innovative and worthwhile back when they had to run in between 4 KB and 64 KB of RAM – the Apple II and C-64 era. The 512 KB era wasn’t bad either – the Amiga, the Atari ST, or if you were really unlucky the IBM PC and clones. But now games seem dominated more by multimedia excess than anything else.

    The discipline of limited power and resources seems to have inspired a lot of creativity. Perhaps if we want better games again we should pull the plug on the hardware industry for a decade or two.

  65. Tatiana on September 17, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for one of the funniest and best T&S threads evah! I love gamez, but I don’t know if I can come up with any justifications why they are worthwhile. I do believe they are. My 2 year old niece knew all her letters by sight because of a Mickey Mouse game she loved. The socialization of the otherwise unsociable in in adolescence is another possible reason. Because they’re so fun (literary artistic merit) is a third. Puzzles and problem solving is a fourth. But in the end it just comes down to our own experiences. Games have enriched my life. They are far better than television, which I never, never watch anymore. They aren’t as good as books yet, perhaps, or not the ones I’ve played, but I think they have the potential to be, and when they’ve been around as long as books have, there will be masterpieces and classics (Donkey Kong Country II with Dixie and Diddy is a strong candidate for a classic in my book) of gaming just as there now are in literature.

    What I am really unsure of is if online forums, blogging, and commenting on blogs, is worthwhile or not. I seriously can’t decide. I think I spend more time doing those things than they deserve, probably. I’m going to try for some higher quality time playing games, instead. =)

  66. Susan M on September 17, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    One of my favorite videogames is a workout game, Eyetoy Kinetic:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVO7RbfnGP8

    It’s awesome.

    Other than that, I’m strictly a PSP gamer. Puzzle games are my fave (huge Lumines freak). I love the PSP because I can play whenever I’m stuck waiting for something or someone. Like in a doctor’s office.

    Isn’t the guy who created Pong LDS?

  67. jjohnsen on September 17, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    If you’re talking about Nolan Bushnell creating PONG, he describes himself as ex-mormon.

    Mark, I agree there was a good-ol’-days for gaming, but there are great examples of games that use increased technology to benefit gameplay. Any game that uses realistic physics for example. Games like Half-Life 2, Oblivion, and the upcoming portal(which is all physics). None of these games would be possible on my old Amiga. As for graphics, they may be unnecessary, but I don’t mind having something pretty to look at while I play my games.

  68. worm on September 17, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    If I were to offer an example of a modern video game with clear artistic value, I’d name ICO, a Playstation 2 game by Fumita Ueda/Sony. It’s a pretty simple and straightforward title with beautiful minimalistic design and strong emotional resonance (at least, for me). It’s the story of a young boy with horns in a village where boys born with horns are ritually sacrificed. He meets up with another child (a girl) who shares something of a similar destiny. The two children work together to escape a castle where they are imprisoned.

    ICO didn’t do well at all in the market (the fate of many of the very best video games), but it’s not terribly hard to find a used copy. At any rate, it’s my candidate for anyone who has seen nothing but shallow entertainment, violence, and teen-age wish-fulfilment in video games and thinks that there’s nothing more to them.

  69. Jonathan Green on September 18, 2006 at 3:38 am

    Also, here’s another link to a game I posted a note about back in March called Seiklus. Small, free, non-violent and family-friendly, and written by a guy who served a mission in Estonia. I liked it, my kids enjoyed it, and it beats letting them sit through four hours of SpongeBob. I agree that a lot of interesting games aren’t well known, and many worthy examples don’t have multi-millions dollar budgets.

  70. Adam Greenwood on September 18, 2006 at 8:43 am

    “If you want to write the great Mormon novel, or the great Mormon dissertation, don’t play video games.”

    A-frickin’-men. I finally summoned up the resolve to stop playing video games a few years back. Went cold turkey. I had high hopes, but about two weeks later I got invited to help form T&S. So much for that.

  71. Adam Greenwood on September 18, 2006 at 8:49 am

    “The few times I played Doom with my roommates where we worked together against hordes of monsters were definitely helpful to our communication with each other. ”

    My roommates and I, the ol’ G.R.O.S.S. gang, would sneak into BYU’s CAIDM (sp.?) late at night, and play Doom against each other. It was a lot of fun, especially the time that one of us lost all his weapons and went charging out into the central cavern barehanded yelling ‘I’m invincible!’ Luckily no one else was in the lab at the time.

    I don’t think it improved our communication though, unless shouting ‘I’m invincible!’ during lulls in conversations counts as communication.

  72. Adam Greenwood on September 18, 2006 at 8:54 am

    “Jim, Mark B., if you could see my garden, you would understand. We utterly failed to grow corn–in Illinois, in a plot surrounded on three sides by corn fields. For me, gardening represents a futility of effort on the order of finishing Zelda.”

    I’d think that the perversity of gardening is one of the reasons its probably better for your soul than gaming. I’m not really opposed to gaming, but my experience with it isn’t really the same as Veritas’. Its been a problem in some marriages, for sure, and not just because the wife had hangups.

  73. Mark Butler on September 18, 2006 at 9:09 am

    JJohnsen,

    My problem is not the technology. I worked as a video game developer during my college years (while majoring in physics), hand coding the tighest (typically 68K) assembly language I could manage to get better game physics. My best work never saw the light of day because it wouldn’t fit in 512K of RAM on an Amiga (it was a prototype of a eventually much more subdued and ordinary Jack Nicklaus Golf for the Amiga – the graphics engine used hold-and-modify mode to produce what looked more like paintings, rather more artistic in feel than most contemporary 3D graphics produced with four or five orders of magnitude more firepower.

    The problem is excess, and perhaps target audience. Most video games are not uplifting or enobling any more. Instead they corrupt and degrade. I cannot look well upon any game that glorifies the worst kind of violence, immorality, mysticism, or even escapism. Too many games are like pulp fiction or worse – they reflect an underdeveloped sense of morality and more often promote an anti-morality.

    I think first person shooters are some of the worst. I can’t say I have ever seen a Doom or Counterstrike like game that I thought anyone would be better off for playing. Some of the mysticism in fantasy adventure RPGs is unusually amoral if not outright occult as well. It is excess everywhere you look – an abundance of technological riches and the designers and developers spend so much of it on amorality and immorality. Earlier games, by and large, were not like that, perhaps in part due to relative resource poverty.

    With regard to true artistic and literary merit I agree that games have potential, but that it is mostly unrealized because the designers and players (in the large) seem to occupy one of the most immature niches on the planet, making pulp fiction look uplifting by comparison.

  74. Susan M on September 18, 2006 at 10:38 am

    The developers of Ico have another, more recent game that most gamers consider art. I’ve never actually seen or played it, but it get raves the same way Ico does. (I’m a web developer and I work for a gaming website.) Shadow of the Colossus. Although I think maybe the story isn’t as compelling, but I’m not sure.

    I can’t say I have ever seen a Doom or Counterstrike like game that I thought anyone would be better off for playing.

    My son plays a modified version of Half-Life, it’s called concing (conking?). The mod changes the laws of gravity in the game. Rather than running around shooting people, you use your grenades—if thrown/aimed at the ground, they send you up into the air. (The name comes from the concussion grenades.) Kids build levels in the games themselves that they then have to conc through.

  75. Rosalynde Welch on September 18, 2006 at 10:51 am

    So are games mostly the progeny of genre fiction like fantasy, sci-fi and thriller, or are there “literary fiction” games, too? (Probably not, i’m guessing; literary fiction is usually about words more than story, and games need stories but abandon language.)

  76. Mark Butler on September 18, 2006 at 11:00 am

    The text oriented Zork series of games from Infocom are probably the closest thing there has ever been to games as literature. There are other quasi-literary games that include graphical elements. Myst is a relatively recent example. The Apple II era had a litany of these wandering quasi-literary adventure / mystery games. Mystery is the predominant aspect because otherwise there wouldn’t be a game at all.

  77. Seth R. on September 18, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Anyone else notice that the musical scoring in games is getting really, REALLY good?

    For some examples, check out DirectSong.com. I just got the soundtrack to “Prey” and it’s really quite good. One of the best soundtracks I’ve seen this year.

    Of course, for the last word in video gaming, click here.

  78. dp on September 18, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    Amen to Jonathon’s original post. From a post I wrote 2 years ago about video games – “I am reminded of Elder Ballard’s excellent 2002 fireside address where he decried “sitting for hours on end watching television or videos, playing video games night in and night out, surfing the Internet, or devoting huge blocks of time to sports, games, or other recreational activities”.
    More at http://www.doctrinal.net/archives/2004/10/08/put-away-childish-things/

  79. John David Payne on September 18, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    Computer games are super-fun. I am glad I play them.

  80. Kevin Winters on September 19, 2006 at 8:38 am

    If you want very artistic games (including incredible music), check out the latest in the Final Fantasy series, including the latest movie Advent Children. I was blown away by the excellent computer graphics and movie score (the plot was decent as well).

  81. Mike S on September 19, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    Interesting discussion.

    I’ve been a gamer (paper and computer) for decades, and have been a professional game developer for over twelve years (also active LDS, married, six kids, etc.). There are a few LDS developers that I know of, and I wish there were more. FWIW, my wife plays paper RPGs but isn’t too interested in computer games. Our kids are old enough now that we’ve evolved a Christmas tradition of having me run a D&D games when they’re home for the holidays. We all play, from my oldest daughter and her husband (both employed as game designers) down to our youngest son.

    There are many parts of the game industry that I have little use for and whose games I don’t bring into my house. But that’s not to say that all computer games are evil or without value. Nor is it the case that all computer games are about mastery as the original poster said, much less about “self-medicating oneself with miniscule doses of mastery.” That’s true of many but by no means all games — exploration, socialization, puzzle-solving, and other aspects (even physical activity with games like Dance Dance Revolution) are just as significant as mastery.

    That said, playing games to the exclusion of other activities isn’t healthy and should definitely be avoided — the same as with reading, basketball, watching TV, or knitting. I say this more out of concern for keeping balance in life than issues like obesity (for the latter look more to the prevalence of high-fructose corn syrup in just about everything available for kids to eat today, and consider that childhood obesity runs in epidemic proportions even in areas without access to video games at all).

    There is in some parts of the games industry a great deal of concern about how to make games more valuable and in some cases more educational without falling into the “shoot math problems with your ray gun\” kinds of misguided design. Computer games are used by the US military in training and have been identified by the National Institutes of Science as a key factor in increasing educational effectiveness. There is a great deal of work being done on effective storytelling in games, and a lot of interest in bringing more significant themes than “yeah, I shot him!” to them as well.

    Computer, video, and online games are no longer just for boys or for geeks. Online games are played primarily by women over the age of 35; massively multiplayer game players are almost equally split between men and women and have an average age of 29. Games are increasingly part of our society just like cell phones and the Internet. You can avoid them if that suits you, but doing so as a moral stance is, I think, misguided.

  82. Mark Pickering on September 19, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    I find many of the anti-game comments above vitriolic and irrational for a variety of reasons. First, none of us will ever write the great Mormon novel or dissertation. We are all just mediocre, bourgeois people trying to make ends meet and be saved. Playing computer or video games is not necessarily going to bankrupt you, destroy your marriage, or land you in hell. It is not necessarily going to prevent you from being a tenured professor or a Mormon Studies guru.

    These anti-gaming arguments could be (and have been) employed against every conceivable leisure activity. Joseph Fielding Smith called card-playing “a pernicious waste of time” (Doctrines of Salvation), and countless religious figures have banned dancing, laughing, and music (like the Taliban). Brigham Young had a devil of a time convincing the Saints that dancing was OK.

    Max Weber said that Mormonism was halfway between the church and the factory, and after reading these comments, I’m inclined to agree with him. Sure, idelenss is bad, but leave liesure out of it. You people need to mellow out. The only “road to oblivion” is sin.

  83. Mark Pickering on September 19, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    “Leisure,” not “liesure.” Must be those computer games frying my brain!

  84. Mark Butler on September 19, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Mark P.,

    I agree – the problem here is the unusually addictive tendency of modern video games, especially MMORPGs. If all those involved keep their participation within reasonable bounds of time, dedication, and priority no problem – or at least no more problem than exists for television and a wide variety of other relatively pointless (but recreational) endeavors.

  85. Mark Butler on September 19, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    MMORPGs: Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. I always wanted to develop one back before virtually anyone had heard of the Internet. But I think my idea of a worthwhile exercise in spare time is rather different (as in intricate, realistic, difficult, strategic, and involved) than the market masses.

    Everquest or Ultima Online are pale shadows of the educational and mind stretching potential of networked role playing games. The problem is to be truly educational a game must approach and require the same intellectual sophistication as is required to succeed in the real world, and most do exactly the opposite. Games for dummies who merely want to feel like they are successful.

  86. Jonathan Green on September 19, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Mike S, thanks for your comments. I was hoping to hear from some game developers. I still have my doubts about playing games, but my brushes with programming and level design have been enjoyable and intellectually challenging experiences. As far as game playing, though, I’m always struck by how hard it is to explain to my wife what, exactly, I accomplished in the previous evening’s gaming session.

    Oh, yeah, about cell phones: chatting obliviously into one of those hands-free cell phone headsets as you walk down the street–in fact, while doing anything anywhere at all in public–is also an opposite-of-sexy activity available equally to men or women. It’s true that cell phones are part of our society, but the headsets and oblivious conversations are an incredibly unsexy part of it.

  87. DKl on September 19, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    There’s a real sense in which things actually are more exciting now than they were years ago. And if we’re going to get anything done at all, we’ve got to willfully throw away a little excitement and embrace boredom. I’ve quoted Bertrand Russell quite often to the effect that “Boredom, as a factor in human behavior, has received far less attention than it deserves.” But I don’t think I’ve sited this little gem on the ever decreasing amount of boredom in the lives of those in the developed world:

    Young men and young women meet each other with much less difficulty than was formerly the case, and every housemaid expects at least once a week as much excitement as would have lasted a Jane Austen heroine throughout a whole novel.

  88. Michael Bailey on December 21, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    Video games are often derided as time-wasters and what-not. The national best-seller \”Everything Bad Is Good For You\” by Stephen Johnson makes a very good argument that video games (as well as television) are actually making people smarter. I urge you to read it.

  89. Evaine on April 22, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Good post. You make some great points that most people do not fully understand.

    “Also, my wife points out that there are few less sexy things a male can do than sit on a couch, game controller in hand, rocking from side to side as he blasts aliens in a virtual world. Cooking skills are sexy. Conversation skills are sexy. Showing your date how you got that high score is the opposite of sexy.”

    I like how you explained that. Very helpful. Thanks.