Growing up in a broken home is hard on anyone. Further, when the big split occurs can make a difference as well, mutating the reactions and resultant emotions that occur. For teenagers, they may withdraw into their own worlds, keeping their feelings to themselves. Luckily for me, my parents divorced when I was three and I literally grew up not knowing the difference.
And the best part: by the time I got my Nintendo Entertainment System, my parents were understandably eager to get back on the dating scene. My grandmother sent this amazing gray box from her home in Honolulu for our Christmas circa 1988, and both my brother and I were hooked.
So, in the eyes of an exhausted adult pining for some alone time, the NES and video games in general were a lifesaver that bought them at least an hour of peace and quiet. After the Video Game Crash of 1983, it took a lot of convincing on Nintendo's part to get reluctant store owners to stock the NES. In many ways, the world forgot why video games were compelling in the first place and in 1988, many people still didn't have a clue what the big deal was. Sure, my parents discovered that the NES had secret babysitter powers that could be summoned at a moment's notice, but for me, I was beginning to discover my inner ninja and it would only progress as I got older.
But now that I'm a single 30-something with a kid I get a lot of...
And You're How Old?
Even in the gaming industry's infancy, video games were dismissed as a "child's toy". In fact, my own parents remain utterly oblivious to the medium to this day. In their eyes, my brother and I playing our NES looked like two kids staring intently into a TV screen, only making a sound when something nebulous happened onscreen. Predictably, our playtime was limited to one hour a day on the weekends with the rare 30-minute weekday session thrown in if needed, mostly because our parents didn't see any value in the activity beyond keeping us quiet for a little bit.
Even as a kid, playing games like Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and Adventures of Lolo did a lot more than keep me quiet. There have been studies that suggest that video games provide multiple cognitive and mental health benefits, but after 25 years of gaming, I experienced:
Heightened Hand-Eye Coordination
Even with the dance game of a wet tissue, I can still dust the average person on the street in a game of Whack-A-Mole or Castlevania. During the heyday of the NES, players were thrust into a seemingly impossible scenario with little context and, perhaps most shocking to newer gamers, ZERO tutorials! There's a reason why the phrase "NES Hard" exists and applies to titles such as Ghosts 'n Goblins and Silver Surfer. When you have a limited amount of time and wanted to see as much of the game as you could before it had to be taken back to the video store, you had no choice but to master it!
Out of all the benefits that I've received growing up as a gamer, this one stands out the most. In fact, my all-summer grind sessions with games like Super Mario Bros. 3 contributed to a marked increase in sensorimotor skills, according to the University of Toronto. So after establishing that Big Bertha equals death, my muscle memory would be conditioned to react when one of those bad boys (girls?) started barreling towards me, evolving to the point of anticipating the attack before it even appeared onscreen.
Anticipating and reacting to visual stimuli is something that I got really good at through plain old repetition, which also led to:
Improved Problem-Solving Skills
It's true: video games helped me figure out the inner machinations of the entire universe....well, not really, but they certainly helped with my ability to figure general stuff out. For example, in Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout, you'll eventually come across a platform that's simply too high to reach with Bugs' conventional jump. However, that nearby seesaw looks suspicious and, oh yeah, Bugs' attack is an oversized hammer. Hmm...
Who would've known? Just like with the multitude of educational problem-solving programs still in academic circulation, in order to master the game, you need to understand its rules. Once the base rules are established, the player can then focus on improving their play through repetition and memorization. Even though my parents may have written off video games as a useless medium, my consistent improvement in Goomba stomping efficiency begged to differ when I started applying it in real-life scenarios as a working adult.
Deadlines, specific customer nuances, predictive analytics, and other real-world applications were all honed to a razor's edge thanks to video games. But even the most hardened of us need a break once in awhile, which leads to the entire point of video games...
Built-In Stress Relief
Everyone needs an escape from the real world when things become too much. For some, this means going to a new restaurant, going to the theater or even cleaning house. Entire professions have been built around movies; you know, media that you passively ingest.
Now imagine a visual platform that you can interact with that provides you feedback in real-time? For many long-time gamers, ultimate relaxation revolves around popping in their favorite title and imbibing until they've had their fill, even if it's a blood-soaked, adrenaline-pumping title like DOOM.
In fact, a 2010 study conducted at Texas A&M showed that adults who play violent video games long-term are more adept at handling stress, become less depressed and get less hostile during stressful tasks. However, the benefits of stress relief are not confined solely to violent video games.
For those who have played video games their whole lives, they may have specific titles that they go to depending on their level of stress. For me, if I'm sad, FEZ is the ticket to Tranquil City, but if I'm angry, Brutal Doom it is...
Grown Gamers, Wave Your Flag High
So, despite what popular media or that sexy (yet deluded) person at work tell you, video games are not a hobby to be ashamed of. Aside from their stress-relieving properties, video games can help you become a more coordinated and confident human being, capable of handling stress and solving problems efficiently.
Stay awesome, fellow gamers, and take solace in the fact that our hobby effectively makes us super heroes!