I’ve been playing games my whole life. One thing I learned from my professor is that the “play” I had with games isn’t where gaming’s purpose stops. Each game, each genre, each sort of play that I participated in over my life so far has taught me something. I’ve been learning new skills from the games I’ve played ever since Peekaboo.
My first game existed in my mind. There were no real rules, only that I was in control of whatever happened in front of me. I imagined things; adventures, characters, problems, and solutions. The skill of problem solving is what I learned from the first times I was imagining. I learned how to cause problems, and how to solve them. Imagination is also a fundamental skill, and the basis of my passion for the arts.
Video games make up the largest portion of my playing. From Grade 3 until today, video games have taught me about cooperation, patience, time management, goal-setting, and inspection. More recent games have also explored philosophical skills such as morality, autonomy, and faith.
Starting with my first video game, Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Gameboy, I learned about level-based play and the challenge of exploring the layout of a level until I was able to complete it flawlessly. The game also had “secrets” – hidden areas that were either alluded to with visual clues, or hidden completely and required trial-and-error methods of finding it. These secrets fostered my childhood curiosity and taught me how to search, how to observe, and how to find. The coins waiting for me inside these hidden areas were just an added bonus.
Monster Hunter Tri for the Nintendo Wii improved on my observational skills by pitting the player against massive beasts. Each fight took up to an hour, with no on-screen meters or bars to tell me my progress. Instead, by studying the monster’s movements, I could predict it’s attacks or track it between areas of the map. This map also fostered an interest in orienteering, helping to familiarize myself with a compass rose and basic directional skills.
Mario Party 7 is a video-board game for the Nintendo GameCube. Playing matches in teams required playing cooperative mini games, which were usually simple button inputs, but relied on my sense of teamwork to complete successfully. This game is also close to my heart because it was my first console game, which I was given for Christmas in 2005.
The game studio Kairosoft writes mobile games that focus on micromanagement. These games taught me a lot about financial management and cash flow, building off of my knowledge from Rollercoaster Tycoon. The sense of play in these management games comes from making progress, which I’ve noticed is something that connects all of my playing over my entire life. I prefer to feel this motion when I play, that pushes me towards a goal, instead of stagnant exploration. More recently I’ve been able to set goals for myself, in my life, to take the place of goals that developers set for me, in games I used to play.
More abstract skills, such as understanding morality and being able to question faith come from narrative driven games that have grown in popularity with more mature audiences. Games such as Heavy Rain, inFamous, and Bioshock place their stake in the gaming community by questioning the agency of the player, questioning our ability to make choices, and ultimately forcing the player to try and make the right choices. Having the option to do wrong, and know I am doing wrong, both appeases my inner demons that cry for anarchy in my life, while also reminding the rest of me that I have agency and that I can – and must – choose do good. Being challenged in this way, repeatedly, strengthened my will to do good and diminished my desire to see chaos. I was given an outlet for chaos, dealt with it free of real-world consequences, and can return to it as an outlet whenever I feel the need or want to.
My most recent act of play has come full circle: I competed in the Canadian Improv Games in High school and now I’m studying theatre. These two games – I do consider them games, because my work is based in play – have brought me back to developing my imagination. I spent so long as a child wandering the imaginations of other people that I started to lose my own. To nurture my imagination, I found theatre. And now, moving forward, I’d like to use my imagination to inspire others to find theirs. Read my plays, tell me what you think! And please, write your own.
Words are our most valuable tool, and the final skill that gaming has taught me is how to use that tool for some sort of greater good. Sharing my words, sharing my ideas, that’s how discussions happen. Discussions lead to change, and change makes the world go ’round.I want to leave you with the words of a picture I once saw on the internet, author unknown: you don’t stop playing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop playing.