Wannabe Wired: the benefits of gaming

A friend of mine recently tagged me in a social media post about E-sports. The long and short of it was that she was not convinced that video games belonged in schools. She tagged me because she knows I “have opinions” and that they are usually “opposite of hers.” I think that was a friendly way of saying she thinks I’m a contrarian.

Thing is, she was right. I did have opinions and they were different than hers. And even though she told me she doubted they’d change her mind I went ahead and gave them to her anyway. Hey, she asked.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, E-sports is the official term for competitive gaming. The industry is worth over $1 billion with an estimated audience of over 500 million — and it only keeps growing. Keep in mind, I’m only talking about professional, competitive gaming. Streamers, who make their living playing video games online, bring in millions of viewers and dollars in their own right.

And you can believe academia has taken notice.

From high school to college, schools have started sponsoring their own E-sports teams. These teams exist alongside traditional sports like football and basketball, with the notable exception that they are played sitting down.

My friend’s perspective is not new. Video games have long been derided as artless, brainless garbage. But so were Shakespeare’s plays and now you can’t get out of high school without reading “Romeo and Juliet”. It is easy to criticize new ideas, but even harder to deny them once they become culturally impactful. And video games are the most impactful cultural medium in the world, having overtaken movies as the number one form of entertainment.

But this still doesn’t answer the question, why put them in schools?

In 2014, a study by the American Psychological Association looked at the cognitive benefits of video games. The study stated: “While one widely held view maintains that playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception.”

Yes, that’s right, studies have shown that video games are incredibly useful learning tools. They build hand/eye coordination, strengthen pattern recognition, increase communication skills, and serve as strong team-building exercises. They also help develop spatial awareness and problem-solving skills.

And let’s not forget, E-sports are very lucrative and can lead to scholarships for high school students and big monetary windfalls for universities. Again, this is a sport that is growing year by year. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility for E-sports to surpass traditional sports in popularity by the end of the decade.

And why stop at sports? I think it would be beneficial for games to be integrated into schools in more than just a competitive setting. On the university level you can find classes about game design, game writing and even games as literature. There’s no reason these kinds of classes can’t exist on the high school level.

So, yeah, she was right, I had an opinion about it. What about you? I might be opening myself up to a deluge of emails here, but what do you think?