I believe that video games should not be negated as an illegitimate form of learning and development.
I did not grow up playing video games. I spent most of my free time running around outside sword fighting with my younger brother, or running from cops after being caught out past curfew–not the only thing we ran from, nor the scariest. We spent our days role-playing as superheroes, capturing imaginative pokemon, and exploring haunted areas near our home. I did, however, pick up Halo after reading the first book. I immediately realized the value of video games. Not only do video games present someone with the opportunity to spend quality time with a friend (quality time is a subjective evaluation, and in my experience alone has given me quality time with some of my more video game oriented friends), it also, depending on the level of engagement, elicits deep conversations about the nature of many different ideas. Even when video games are played alone, if the player plays critically, he is participating in a story that will help develop cognitive thought, social awareness, and problem-solving skills.
Today I still do not spend a whole lot of time playing video games, but there are a few games that still have me deeply engaged in their worlds. One of these games is Destiny. The newly released MMO from Bungie. The story itself is short and not all that interesting, but it does present the player with a few species that can be put under philosophical scrutiny. Incorporated into the game are cards that can be read by visiting Bungie’s webpage. Most of these cards are backstories to characters, events, enemies, or weapons. When one reads, one seeks to comprehend, and when one is challenged to comprehend, one develops one’s own cognitive abilities. Bungie does not simplify these cards in order to make them easily understandable. One often encounters references to old mythological or historical events, words that might make English professors pull out their dictionaries, and complex sentences that force the reader to read critically. They also have deep, morally questionable stories. When one reads about the fallen, for instance, one is challenged to question if it is not the humans that are actually at fault. Reading a post one day on the Destiny forum I encountered a thread that read: “Sepiks Prime isn’t the monster, we are.” The member went on at length on how it is the Guardians whom are the destroyers, not the fallen. Where does this sense of morality come from? Well, I can’t say that one does not need to be required to already have a strong sense of morality to evaluate these stories within the scope of morality, but I know, even without a fully developed lens, that it helps develop one’s sense of morality, as my eleven year old brother one day asked me, “Do you think that the Vex have feelings?” I was caught off guard. Here I was creating a foundation of broken Vex, not a moral qualm about it, and my younger brother questions the morality of our actions. Upon looking further into his question, in order to answer it accurately, I was led into the story of the Exos, another sentient being that was mechanically engineered by humans. For the sake of brevity, I will leave you with an excerpt from one of the grimoire cards: “which in the end is just a matter of substrate chauvinism. It doesn’t matter if the system thinks with flesh or superconductor or topological braids in doped metallic hydrogen, as long as the logic is the same. And our logic is the same. Yours and mine.” How often in the real world are we ever questioned to analyze morality so deeply? To question what qualifies as sentience? In my opinion, video games can be as valuable as any other form of entertainment, so long as the player is playing critically.