Last night before going to bed, I read about a study (study here meaning "opinion poll" because western media is a special breed) suggesting that kids who focus on their screens - playing vidya games, surfing the net, etc. - with intense concentration are not doing so in any way that will improve their professional or life skills prospects. In fact, the article suggested that kids who engage in such activities are only overloading their minds with information frenetically, in such a way that they will deffo have ADHD. Parents: Your kids will become hyperactive, unteachable invalids if they play games! Scare scare! Shun shun!
I think the reality is quite the opposite. When I was interviewed for my current job, I felt one response I gave really sealed the position for me. My now-boss asked me if I'd be okay learning a new type of programming from scratch, and I replied: "For sure. I love learning new ways of thinking. Whether it be different rules to games, different political systems, different types of art and music, I love challenging myself to think in new ways." I've paraphrased, obviously, but when giving that answer, I was mostly thinking of games. Gaming has challenged my mind in a multitude of different ways, whether it be the strategic thinking involved in games like Valkyria Chronicles, Final Fantasy (any of the good ones) or Pokemon, the political ideas you encounter in Fallout or Bioware games, or the exposure to new types of art and music you didn't know you would love - the downbeat industrial music and decaying environments of the Silent Hill series come to mind. I can't help but feel that vidya games have directly improved my mind when it comes to matters of strategy, problem solving, organization and ability to make decisive decisions.
But these are a given.
Perhaps more profoundly, gaming has made me more open-minded in a social sense as well, and I think such is true of most gaming enthusiasts. While any form of media is subject to social criticism, I definitely feel ire is especially focused on games, often within the gaming community itself. Games are frequently called out for depictions of women that can definitely be interpreted as sexist, and for the lack of racial representation. If a game contains images or content of mass murder or racial supremacy, they are scrutinized far more and with far less tact than, say, a film might. And gamers are very apt to discuss such issues - ignoring the bumblefuck dimwits that crawl out from the darkest corners of the internet (as we all should), discussion of social issues is frequent and, for the most part, acceptable. Is this because of the games themselves, or the media lynch mob that speaks out about them? That's difficult to say - but this climate is the one we're currently saddled with.
Games are unique in media, as they often pose decisions to us in a way no other medium really can. In a Fallout game, you can choose to quell the Ghouls for the sake of "racial purity", or defend them and face ostracization from the social elites. Or you can choose nothing at all. Your decision, or lack thereof, will carry with it its own benefits and penalties. If faced with such a situation in real life, we might be guided by gut reaction or careful contemplation. In a game, if we don't like the result, we can reset it. In a way, I feel this helps calibrate a person's moral compass in ways no strict ideology can - we can experiment, and we're allowed to make the wrong choice without profound consequences in the real world. But still, we are human - when we see the suffering of a populace, or the odds when they are stacked against us, even in a virtual space, we react as humans do. The lasting impressions of a game can be, I'd argue, similarly impactful to real world events in terms of our personal development.
But perhaps morals aren't your thing - perhaps you're a sociopath, or a misanthrope. When playing games like Valkyria Chronicles or Final Fantasy Tactics, I come to understand the value of a soldier. Not as a human, as a flesh-and-blood being, but in terms of their value - what they can directly contribute to my goals. If you lose the Calculator you spend hours level grinding, you see the importance of that asset. If you lose your best Shocktrooper, you reset the game because NOPE. This sensation can't quite be applied socially, unless you're a military officer or office supervisor, but it can be applied to other things. When I discovered my new car should not have passed safety and needed new brakes before I could drive it again, I felt my heart sink in the same way I would if I lost my best in-game assets. But I also knew that I had beaten those games, even if I had to make due with a few losses - and I can do the same in life. I gathered all the resources I could muster, I maxed out my credit card and I finally filed for my tax return, but while I may be flat broke until my tax return shows up, I'm on the road with new brakes and a full tank of gas. Obstacles, even in adversity, can be conquered with careful planning.
So to the ape-people that condescend their children for playing Minecraft or Skyrim or League of Legends for hours on end, I ask you to listen to my words. I am not quite the sparkling image of perfection like General McFist, but I am smarter and more conscientious than I would have been without games in my life. If your child will not fit within the rigid confines of right and wrong or tame and wild, don't step on their feet and demand they do things your way - let them develop themselves. Their minds, their morals, their ideals. You will be shocked to find that they neither shuffle mindlessly through life or take up hooker killing. In fact, god forbid, they might actually wind up a thoughtful human being.