One of my areas of interest is how commercial video games – not the educational efforts you remember playing on the BBC Micro at school, but the big “triple A” commercial releases such as Civilization and Assassin’s Creed – have already helped make us better-educated, well-rounded people. For this view to be accepted, however, it often feels as though the image of video games, and that of the people who play them, must first be defended, and explained.
My office colleagues, for example, provide some not inconsiderable evidence for the defence, and certainly don’t fit the image of the borderline sociopathic, culturally myopic Neanderthals so often associated with “gamers” in the media, and in the eyes of deluded, corrupt politicians. In an office of four, three of us are men (or, at least, very large boys) in our thirties, who have grown up with video games. Like the current generation of ‘digital natives’, for whom Google, Wikipedia and Facebook are part of the furniture, our generation is arguably that of the ‘gaming native’.
Weaned on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sinclair Spectrum and Acorn Electron – and still playing today on our PS3s, Xbox 360s and Wiis – we’ve pretty much turned out, well, alright. We all hold down jobs in academia and between us have degrees in Law, English, Geology and Information Technology, plus one PhD almost in the bag and another about to begin. We all have partners, children, mortgages and a slight propensity for beer. We’re pretty normal, and officially Not Sociopathic.
One of our number, who admits to learning what the Manhattan Project was from Civilization*, is something of an oracle on all things historical and cultural – particularly when it comes to the Classics. He’s also equally comfortable with the idea of decapitating a Goblin Warlord in Oblivion, or shooting a fleeing suspect in the back in L.A. Noire. The second of my officemates, one of the most erudite gentlemen you’ll ever meet, is equally adept at explaining binary translation technologies as he is recounting the bloody demise of some on-screen foe, or contributing to the body of online Dark Souls knowledge. These two sets of skills complement one another: possessing both has not yet resulted in bloody violence spilling over into our research activities.
And what of that fourth colleague, so far unaccounted for? Well, she has learned to tolerate the game-related office chat, and become quite adept at filtering out the admittedly inane discussions that focus on the merits of a +5 Drake Sword versus the +4 Lightning Spear. One could argue that video games, however indirectly, have blessed her with an understanding of the art of selective listening.
* He’s keen to stress that he learned this as a teenager, who shouldn’t necessarily have known the de facto name of the nuclear programme that gave the world atomic bombs.