This is by no means intended to be law. I am just offering my observations, experiences, and personal opinions on the matter. I hope you will read objectively, and at the end, share your thoughts, be they in agreement or disagreement with the following statements.
This post, I'll be focusing on several aspects of playing video games I think are actually beneficial.
“You nuts? How can gaming help anyone’s social skills? You don’t meet anyone!”
You’ve obviously never played any MMO’s. (MMO = Massive Multiplayer Online. Think World of Warcraft type game).
Many MMO’s have a pretty heavy social aspect that is often missed. I’ve made good friends whom I’ve only met while playing Perfect World International (another MMO). We’ve never met in person, but we have strong bonds that remain today.
The thing you have to understand, is most MMO’s are a lot more than just staring at the screen all day. You’re interacting with other human beings, and via digital link or not, those human beings have personalities you have to interact with. They’re just as diverse online as they are in person. You have the jerks, the jocks, the nut-cases, the quiet types, the foolish types, the ones who will listen and teach, the ones who will give what they have to help another, it’s all there! The more you play, the more types you see.
In Perfect World, there are groups known as "factions" where like-minded players can gather to help each other out. They also tend to do a great many things together, and not just quests or dungeons. There are several chat channels in the game, one of which is restricted to your faction. Anyone in your faction can see and use this channel. Between quests, or even during, conversations are almost always going on, covering every topic under the sun. Be it a random conversations about sport or a famous person, or a more game centered debate about the best weapon for a certain class, or the joksters putting on a show, the only difference was the conversations were done via in-game chat instead of in person.
The faction I was in, known as "Nemesis", often enjoyed joking at our own expense too. Every year, factions fight for control of territory, and each faction get's their own color on the map. One year, our was a hot pink. I'm dead serious. It was a scorching bright pink that had no place on such map. Oh my gosh we had laughs at that! For two months we even changed our logo to a hot pink pig-head just to make fun of ourselves. When that ended, we went back to the other easy laugh. One class of character was female only. No male version possible. But male players played them as much as any other. However, this did not prevent other players from hitting on them anyway. More than a few of us were on the floor when we heard the tale of some guy delivering the perfect pick-up line - or the world's worst -, followed by the player revealing they were actually male. The response was always the same.
"Oh." *Awkward silence.*
Nemesis was more than a hang-out however. As I said, each week, factions fight for territory in battles known as "Territory Wars" These battles can be as large as 80 vs 80. That’s 80 players that have to work together to achieve success. Those that don’t work together well, don’t organize well, that don’t listen and react well, are the groups that don’t win. And let me tell you, such battles are far more than staring at a screen. 80 players, all calling targets, directing traffic, and reporting on various aspects of the battle, there’s a lot going on there.
It can go deeper than that too. The image above? That's a patch I made for my faction mates as a reminder. I'd spent four years with them, and when we were at our best, our name fit our group very well. In battle, we were a combat unit with a well built hierarchy. A perfectly oiled machine that would do any general proud for our ability and team-work. When our lead said attack, the enemy felt the full force of our faction. She directed us with laser precision, as well as a keen sense of responsibility. She owned her mistakes, and asked the same of us.
But more than that, we were a family. I mean it. All those crazy conversations, the long hours chatting about nothing, the nights spent arguing over wither Barbarians should carry axes or hammers, it brought us together like nothing else. At our peak, we had gathered a group of 170 people who loved playing with each other. We were all crazy enough to be committed, friendly enough to enjoy, and selfless enough to help each other improve. When the faction finally had to disband (long story there), many felt the pain for real. It’s not that different than a championship high-school football team that’s all graduating. We’d just won the territory war season, and the leader wanted us to end on a high instead of crumbling like so many gaming factions do. A process that at the time, had already begun. Our run was over, but we were going to miss each other. So I made a patch. A physical thing we could all have to help us remember all the amazing times we had together. Yeah, we liked each other that much. Got several of them crying too when they read the poem I sent with it.
Many of the skills learned can transfer to the real world. You have to know how to interact with people. True, it’s different in person, but what you learn online can train your brain with the concepts. Be it keeping your cool with the jerks, knowing how to gently open someone’s shell, or finding the words someone will hear and learn from, you’d be surprised just how much transfers.
That and after leading a squad in one of those 80 vs 80 fights, you can’t help developing leadership skills. The ones that let you lead your squad, while following the orders of the faction leader. Oh yes, those skills transfer. I blame Nemesis for much of my confidence today. Before them, I had never, not once, taken command of something and had it go well. In Nemesis, I led squads successfully many times. I learned how to do so there, and have refined those skills in the real world.
Awareness and reaction:
Quite often in video game combat, less than a split second can be the difference between life and death. Be it an incoming missile, a tank you just noticed, or an enemy mage about to fire off the mother of all skills, you often have very little time to react. Anyone who’s ever spent time sniping in Call of Duty or Halo can attest to the awareness and timing required to catch a target at the optimal point in his patrol.
In that same thread, you have to know what’s going on around you. Remember those 80x80 fights I mentioned? If you don’t see the enemy squad coming, it quite often means the end of yours. Similarly, waiting until their attack squads leave the base to make your run can mean lots of damage done before they can get back to take you out. In many ways, video game combat is just like real combat. You have to know what’s going on and react to it NOW!
This does bleed into real-life as the ability to asses and react can transfer. A fire breaks out at work. You know where the fire extinguisher is, you can see it’s a simple trash fire, and before your panicked boss can hit the fire alarm, you’ve got it out. Traffic accident? Again, your mind is trained to keep calm and think while acting at the same time.
Believe me, there is nothing more terrifying in those 80x80 fights than twenty-plus mages, archers, and heavy armor characters thundering your way. Panic leads to death. Quick, effective thinking leads to, at worst, a retreat that nets no less. At best, a combined counter attack that leaves them dead instead of you.
Oh yeah, it helps a lot to multi-task too. You learn fast what to watch, what to ignore, and how to monitor things without much effort. This too transfers well.
Many, many, many, games have one of two things; some kind of currency, or limited inventory space. A great many have both. There’s nothing more agonizing to a gamer than having to choose between the assault rifle of their dreams, and the armor plating that can withstand a tank shell. But because there’s only so much space in their inventory, they have to leave one behind. This forces them to think critically about what they really need and/or want. They can’t have it all, so they have to settle for what they want most or feel they need the most.
Similarly, when currency is involved, you have to be careful where and how you spend your money. Sure, there’s an assault rifle that has nice damage for only 200 whatever, but buying it now may mean you can’t get that mega-awesome-chain-gun that costs 4,000 whatever. So what do you do? Well, many gamers find gear that works well enough for the time being until they can save up for what they really want. I myself while playing Perfect World had to pass on buying some decent skill books and armor so I could later afford to get the best of the best. I found gear that kept me alive and did enough damage, and I worked hard to learn how to make it work. In fact, many players skipped their level 80 gear for just that reason. The level 70 gear was good enough, and the level 80 gear wasn’t that much of an upgrade. It just wasn’t worth the time/effort to get it.
This transfers to the real world in the same way. We’ve all had to make do with not-the-best stuff so we could get what we really wanted. You only need to look at cars to see the value there. Until you can get the car you want, you often have to settle for one that serves your needs for the time being. The only reason I would want a Galaxy S5 smart phone is because I’m quite sure it would last me a long, long time, just as my five year old computer has and likely will for a few more years yet.
The inventory space problem helps too. You can only fit so much stuff in certain places, which means you have to decide what to take and what to leave. So what goes on your vacation? Your favorite tent, or your scuba gear? Can’t have both.
I suppose this would fall under social skills, but it’s somehow its own note. Be which fights you can win, or simply which yelling matches to join, you have to learn when to let it go. You’ll get plenty of jerks and bullies online. Sometimes, it really is best to ignore it, hard as that may be. Other times, you can take action. Kick them from your squad, report them to their faction leader. Once you do that, I’ve found it’s best to leave it at that. You’ve done your part. The rest is in the hands of someone else now.
As for combat, discretion really is the better part of valor. You know the one thing our leader told us to focus on above all else? Survival. Dead soldiers can’t help the fight. We would often fall back to preserve the lives of our group so we could better fight later. That said, sometimes a noble sacrifice matters too. Yeah, you died, but you held their advance, or you stripped a high-powered enemy of their buffs, or perhaps you killed their best fighter. Knowing when to run and when to fight can and will decide battles.
In the real world, you gotta learn when to just let it go (insert “Frozen” spoof here). You could make a big stink about something you feel is wrong, or match a negative attitude with one of your own. But what would that really get you? Are you sure it’s worth the cost? Not always, and that’s when you let it be. You stand when you must, but only when you must, and done appropriately.
There is nothing more mindless than grinding through scores of monsters that are no threat to you and are easy to kill. However doing so can be exactly what you need to get over a bad day, or a disturbed mood, or simply to wind down at the end of the night.
“Killing dozens of monsters is a way to wind down?”
When you’re killing each one with one or two blows and they couldn’t kill you if you tried, oh yeah. It’ll settle your emotions down real quick. There may be times where you need that. There have been nights where I needed to come down off a day. Good, bad, somehow energizing, whatever the reason, I needed my mind elsewhere. This was one way to do so.
There’s also the focus needed though. Many dungeons need a squad to work well together. Each person must do their job well and right, which requires skill and attention. Too much attention to allow a rotten mood to survive. It all gets pushed aside so you can keep your squad alive or be healing them. Or in my case, making sure the big, bad, lethal boss is attacking me and only me (known as “tanking”) while making sure I stay alive myself. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain the attention, or "aggro", of that boss, while four of your friends are dealing massive damage to it. If you fail, they'll get aggro, they’ll die, then you will follow, and most often, all will be very unhappy with you. This level of focus forces your mind away from the negative emotion and allows it to reset. The mind will come down from that emotion, allowing you you to think clearly again.
Of course sometimes the act of tanking can leave you juiced as well, but we’ll talk about that another time.
That’s all for now. On the 21st, I’ll cover things about gaming that can be not so good.
In the mean-time… Agree? Disagree? Got a point or two I missed? Do share. I wouldn’t mind this becoming a discussion on the matter.
Till next time, to quote my farewell from my days in Nemesis,
Good hunting to you.