The goodness of games

Tasty and packed with goodness. Pic by thepinkpeppercorn

Tasty and packed with goodness.

Pic by thepinkpeppercorn

It might come as a shock to you, but I have always been a real geek. Underneath this sophisticated exterior and debonaire disposition hides a total nerd. It has taken me a long time to admit to this, but, yes, I had an Atari 2600 and played Joust for hours on a black and white telly. That passion for videogames did not end there. I still play whenever I get a chance, and, thanks to my reduced need for sleep, it turns out my gamerscore on Xbox Live is higher than Richard's! All told I have played video games for 30 years.

More than fun

Games can be more than a brilliant form of entertaining. There are game designers that know how powerful games are and that think they can be used for more than just fun.  The idea of serious games has been around since the 1970s and it has been used to describe games used for training, education and some times advertising. Brenda Brathwaite designs games that -- just by their rules -- can teach important and difficult lessons.  Check out her game train if you want to know what I mean. Jane McGonigal believes that games can help us solve hard problems. The success of the protein folding game Foldit shows how that might work. She has created a game that she claims has helped 120,000 players tackle real-life health challenges: Superbetter.

Here comes the science

But it is not only game designers who are interested in games.  Scientists are taking an interest as well. I recently learned that all that time I spent playing games may not have been as wasted as my family thought. Dr Stuart Brown has researched the impact of play on learning, productivity and emotional health since 1989. His book Play describes much of his research with animals and humans.

However, only recently I have had the strong smoking-gun evidence I need to silence all the critics. According to Prof Daphe Bavelier and her group from Geneva University all those hours playing first person shooters may have improved my vision, attention, multitasking and decision-making speed. She makes the point, however, that -- while scientists are very good at figuring out what makes us better (she calls it the broccoli side of the equation) -- they are not very good at making the "so called" games fun. She compares the "fun" side of the equation to chocolate. Her solution: get some game designers to make chocolate-covered broccoli!

Delicious and good for you

Well, I agree with most of what Daphne says but our solution is different: Russ and I knew from our training and practice what may help people free themselves of things that trouble their minds, but we knew it would be broccoli all the way. If we just got someone to make a game according to our design we would have ended up with Daphne's chocolate-covered broccoli, and who on Earth likes chocolate-covered broccoli? Instead we came to Richard and the lads and told them to really go for the fun side of things. With any luck (and your help) we will end up with dark chocolate: good for you and delicious!