The Most Important Lesson Video Games Taught Me

It’s Christmas, this week, and there will be the inevitable editorials, nay, screeds about video games. They’re violent and dumb, don’tcha know. And we’ll ignore them, like we always do, but I’m going to make an exception, this year, which terrifyingly marks my twenty-fifth year as a gamer, to talk about why video games were important to my life.

As a kid, nothing scares the crap out of you more than failure. It’s easy to forget kids have to build a frame of reference for literally everything, and that includes failure. Confronting the unknown is hard enough; try confronting the unknown when the “unknown” is something you’re told will be unpleasant.

When I was a kid, just starting out in grade school, I was deathly afraid of failure for various boring and conventional reasons. And I was also really, really into video games, so the moment where I was given a Game Boy, my first gaming console, and Super Mario Land was a big, big deal. Finally, I was cool!

One of the best things games ever did for me, though, was give me a place to screw up largely free of consequences. There are consequences, of course; you lose a life, you lose your progress, and eventually you’re kicked back to the curb. Even modern games are ultimately pretty cut and dried; you get to go back and do it again, but you’re going back and doing it again.

And they’re ultimately not harsh consequences. You’re not going to get your college application rejected because you didn’t beat Mega Man. If you can’t deal, you turn the game off and do something else. You start forming strategies, thinking about problems, and acting with forethought.

Like any kid, I took video games far too seriously, but I wouldn’t give up any of that time for a moment, because I became less and less afraid of failure and as a result, I became a better person. I don’t think it insulated me from actually screwing up. And I wouldn’t say video games teach you about, say, dating. But learning about failure, and how to cope with it, is important to any human being’s emotional development, and being able to do that in an environment where there aren’t any real world consequences is a good thing.

It’s increasingly believed that gaming makes you smarter, but I think the more important thing is that being able to accept and recover from setbacks, to put them into context and move on. And that’s ultimately what video games are all about; dealing with hardship. Even if “hardship”, in some cases, is a demon with a missile launcher.

(Image courtesy of Mykl Roventine on Flickr.)