Category Archives: Games and Society

There’s No Shame In Developing Games

Someone recently asked me, “Do you ever feel guilty for making stupid games that just suck time and offer no real benefit to anyone?” Obviously, I was asked this question online, where the rules of civility are rarely applied. However, I tried to be civil in response.  I explained that, no, I don’t feel guilty about making video games. They are a form of entertainment, just as are movies, television, novels, music, and theme parks.

The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga wrote about the importance of play and society in his landmark 1938 book Homo Ludens (“Man, the Player”). He suggested that play may be the primary formative element of human culture and that:

ž”Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.”

In other words, to be fully human, we need to play.

Studies have shown that playing video games in moderation can be physically, mentally and emotionally beneficial for players.  Here are some of the specific ways that players can benefit from playing games:

  • Creative Problem Solving. Many games require players to come up with creative solutions to overcome obstacles, and such creative problem solving is a valuable skill to develop for overcoming obstacles in real life, leading to improved confidence and satisfaction, which in turn can help to boost player’s mental health.
  • Improved Cognitive Abilities.  Games often require players’ brains to work at their highest level, exercising such cognitive abilities as memorization and pattern recognition.
  • Improved Decision Making. Many video games require players to make split-second decisions.  This doesn’t just involve making the right decision, but in learning how to collect the relevant decision needed to make a decision.
  • Improved Vision. While playing games, the player is forced to look for details on the screen and distinguish between different shades of the same color, abilities that are useful in the real world. Some studies have shown that when players with lazy eye are forced to play a game with their good eye covered, the lazy eye condition was corrected to the point where it was no longer a problem.
  • Overcoming Dyslexia. While playing games, the player is force to concentrate for long periods of time, and this intense concentration may change the way the player brain works.  Because the player often is required to read instructions, mission details, and character dialog that pops up on the screen, some researchers believe that the combination of intense concentration and reading may help players to overcome dyslexia.
  • Increased Physical Activity.  Many video games like Guitar Hero and Wii Fit have a physical component where players jump, dance, or even do exercise. These games can make physical activity fun, encouraging players to build their muscles, improve improve posture, and focus on weight loss.  Some may even be motivated to take up physical activity in the real world. 
  • Weight Control. Contrary to the stereotype of gamers being overweight due to the lack of physical activity, games require players to focus on what’s on the screen, leaving little thought to eating snacks.  It’s when people are bored and stressed that they tend to stuff their faces with snacks, not while immersed in a game.
  • Pain Relief.  While playing the video games, players are releasing endorphins, the painkiller hormone. This boosts the body’s natural ability to get rid of the pain that that player’s feel.
  • Fighting Off The Aging Process.  Studies have shown that playing 3-D platform or logic puzzle games can result in cell growth in the hippocampus, a part of the thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system. This may put players at a lower risk for developing the likes of Alzheimer’s and dementia in later life.
  • Improved Social Skills. Chat features in online games, while often abused, do provide players with an opportunity to practice their social skills while under pressure as players are required to communicate clearly and concisely with their teammates to reach a co-op objective.
  • Forging Friendships. Playing online video games with others allow players to connect with people from around the world who share similar interests. Often this can lead to friendships take take place outside of the game world, as players discuss their interests on message boards or even in the real world, at gaming conventions.
  • Minimizing Stress. Not only do games allow players to unwind and keep their minds off of real-life problems,  some of the other benefits gained from playing video games may help players not to get into stressful situations in the first place.

Of course, one must also be careful not to exaggerate the benefits of playing games, and as with anything else, doing so in excess can negate their benefits and even be harmful.  However, when played in moderation as part of a well-balanced life, games can make that life a little more enjoyable.





Showing (Gay) Gamer Pride at E3

The Electronic Gaming Expo, or E3, officially begins on Tuesday, at the Los Angeles Convention Center but it unofficially begins a few days earlier. The console manufacturers and large game publishers hold press events to take advantage of the timing, and many groups, both large and small, hold networking get-togethers in various venues near the Convention Center. In fact, one of my most important tasks in preparing for E3 is in deciding which of the networking events I will attend.

I just returned from my first E3 event of the year, the 9th Annual GGP at E3, held at the Redline Food & Bar in Downtown LA. “GGP” stands for “Gay Game industry Professionals”, an informal group originally formed by Brian Ruben, Vice President of in an ad-hoc attempt to gather gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk attending E3 that year to go out one night together. It then turned into a mailing list and then into a Facebook Group, now comprised of over 1000 members, that serves as a professional resource for hiring game industry professionals, finding a vendor or partner company, or looking for a job.

I was invited to tonight’s gathering by Gordon Bellamy, a Harvard-educated game video game executive who served as the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association from 2010 to 2012, and is an exuberant advocate for diversity and inclusion. It was a very well-attended and lively event, with many of my fellow straight industry colleagues in attendance as well.

Why would someone who is straight attend a LGBT professional get-together at a gay bar? Well, according to the 2014 Developer Satisfaction Study conducted by the IGDA, 79% of us think that diversity is important for the game industry, and 74% of us think that it is important at work, but only 28% of us think there actually is equal treatment for all. So, it is essential that we support all of our fellow game professionals in uniting around our common love of games.

It is vital to have a game industry that is as inclusive as the gamers for whom we develop games. More and more gamers are coming to understand and accept the value of diversity as well, and with this year’s E3 being the first that is open to the public, I can’t think of a more appropriate event to kick off E3 than this.