Before I offer my thoughts on this reading, I want to offer up a small anecdote that contextualizes my own experience with games. When I was 11, I traveled with my father to the UK to look at boarding schools for the remainder of my secondary education. During our visits to a number of schools, we had conversations with headmasters of each school. At one particular schools, the headmaster started our meeting with a comment about one of the school’s recent projects. He said, “This week, we’ve had the boys hard at work building trebuchets.” He then turned to me and asked (reminder: I’m 11), “Do you know what a trebuchet is?” I perked up and said, “Absolutely, it’s a medieval siege weapon used to launch things a great distance.” The headmaster, looking surprised, asked, “Very good. How do you know that?” I responded, “Oh, I learnt it through Age of Empires II…a video game.” The headmaster looked shocked for a moment, then steered the conversation back into safer waters.
I use that anecdote not to underscore my own knowledge of historical weaponry, but to emphasize the capability of video games to be so much more than mindless play. I found Johnson’s argument to be thoroughly compelling, not least due to my own experiences with games. I felt that Johnson spent the majority of the article defending reading, rather than reinforcing the value of video games. Yet, I question his wholehearted endorsement of video games as a useful teaching tool on the ground that it desensitizes violence and teaches negative social lessons.
Although Johnson does mention that video games typically contain violence, he focuses on the positive capabilities of video games, which I agree with. Yet, he fails to mention the incredible levels of violence within today’s video games. Most individuals who have played a version of Grand Theft Auto would probably agree that it contains an inordinate amount of violence, especially graphic violence. One of the serious problems in our society is the relatively lax attitude of families towards these video games. I am definitely not proposing that families attempt to totally isolate children from video games, but I do think a better understanding is needed of the relationship between video games and violence, with an emphasis on how it affects our minds. From a purely lay position, I think that the desensistivity of violence has generated negative social effects in our communities. I wonder if it has decreased our ability to emphathize with victims of violent crime.
Furthermore, there are several significant social lessons generated through video games. Johnson does choose to highlight most of the positive lessons, but falls short of analyzing the negative lessons–of which there are many. For example, video games encourage people to remain stationary for long periods of time. Granted, technology like Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect has encouraged gamers to get up and move as part of the game interaction. Yet, the vast majority of gaming requires little movement on behalf of the gamers. For children, I think there is a huge danger present in video games. As a child, one forms habits that last a lifetime. Speaking from experience, video games do not encourage kids to move and exercise. While exercising is not that important when you’re 10 (I envy kids’ amazing metabolisms), it becomes increasingly important as children grow older. Michelle Obama’s major campaign, “Let’s Move,” is directly aimed at stopping the growing number of children who choose to spend their spare time on the couch. Admittedly, video games are not solely to blame for the lack of physical activity amongst young Americans. Certainly, the television industry has also probably played a larger role. Yet, it would be hard to deny that video games have not played a role. Johnson should consider these concerns in his arguments about the virtues of video games. While I agree with him to a certain extent, I also recognize that video games have serious drawbacks that need to be addressed to ensure that video games remain a positive influence on our society.