It’s probably no big secret, but I’m a big gamer. I grew up playing video games, and I still love them to this day. But I’ve found that many people dismiss them as something for children or for geeks, or believe they have inherently less value because they ‘aren’t a part of the real world’. Many also simply say it’s not their kind of thing, but I’m here to respond that there is a much wider world of video games out there than the popular ones you see where people are shooting each other or beating each other up.
Video games can improve many different aspects of your life. Here’s how.
1. Improve your critical thinking
You’re defending someone accused of a crime. You’ve investigated, gathered the evidence, and now it’s time to interview the witnesses. The first person’s eyewitness testimony seems to point conclusively to your client’s guilt. But is that really the case? Is there something in your evidence that contradicts the witness’s statements? But what evidence, and which part of the statement?
Or, you find yourself on an abandoned island. There are contraptions everywhere, with no instructions. Pressing certain things sometimes has obvious effects, sometimes not. So you wander around, trying to work out what you’re meant to do. What is the cause, and what is the effect?
These games ask you to look at what you have, or to look at your environment, and to make connections between sometimes seemingly unrelated items. They’re about finding patterns. They’re about analysing data, making links, and formulating a solution based on the information at hand. The kind of skills you would use every day in a work environment, or even in your general life.
Suggested games: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (and the other games in the series), Professor Layton series, Myst, Portal (and Portal 2), The Talos Principle, Braid
2. Learn to innovate.
You need to catch a rat to give to a chef (don’t ask). After some exploration, you have quite a few things in your inventory. (You have thought critically to get many of those items.) Among those items, you have a box, a stick, some food, and a piece of string. So you tie the string to the stick. Then you use the stick to prop one side of the box open. Then you put the food into the box. Voila! A makeshift rat trap.
Or you need to force a soldier out of a locked hut, without him knowing that you’re there. Knocking or any kind of forced entry is out of the question. There is, however, a metal chimney on top of the hut. You climb up and try to remove the top, but it’s too hot. Your inventory contains bottled water, so you pour it over the top. Then you use a handkerchief to remove the cooled-down chimney. Finally, you stuff the now-empty water bottle into the metal chimney to block it.
With no way of escape, the smoke fills the cabin, the soldier runs out, and you have accomplished your goal!
While seemingly silly or irrelevant to your life, these puzzles encourage you to look at the items you have on hand and look at them from a different angle. You need to work out what properties these items have, and how they can be used in new and different ways in order to accomplish your goal. They encourage experimentation and innovation, and will help you to see things in your own life in a new light.
Suggested games: Monkey Island series, Broken Sword series, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, King’s Quest series, Machinarium, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
3. Increase your empathy
Games offer a unique opportunity to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. They are interactive, so the player is actively making choices and is a lot more invested in the outcome. Do you choose to execute the traitor, or let them go? Will you steal from someone to make your own journey easier, or take the high road knowing that both you and your child will go hungry?
There are also other experiences that give you a glimpse into the lives of others different to you. Exploring someone’s house, seeing how they live, reading their diary. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone with depression and choosing how to deal with it.
Suggested games: Depression Quest, Undertale, Analogue: A Hate Story, To The Moon, The Walking Dead (Telltale game), Gone Home, Mass Effect series, Witcher series
4. Improve your teamwork and communication skills
One of my new favourite games is where one player takes on the role of disarming a bomb, while the other players are the bomb disposal experts. The bomb disarmer must describe what they see on the bomb to the experts, who have a manual that describes how to disarm the different modules. The experts cannot see the screen where the bomb is, and the disarmer cannot read the manual. Everything relies on communication between the two parties. And time is ticking away! If the timer reaches zero, the bomb will explode.
It gets especially challenging – and amusing! – when trying to describe a series of odd symbols to the experts (“a triangle with three legs!”) or explain the words on a set of buttons (“UR, no not you as in you and me, the letter U and the letter R, you’re… no not your, you’re!”), for example.
Or there’s another game where you have to complete a heist using each of your characters’ specific skills, and not get caught. Together you make your way through a house or a building or an entire area, supporting each other and warning of incoming guards or traps.
These games teach you how to communicate clearly and effectively. (Either that, or they wreck relationships!) It’s a skill that’s easily transferrable to any workplace or business. Whether you’re working on a large project or working with a partner, you will learn to stay focused on the task at hand and let others know exactly what it is they need to do.
Suggested games: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Portal 2 (co-op mode), Monaco, Journey
Are there any games that have helped you improve parts of your life in any way? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
(Note that the suggested games lists are only a sample of games that I’ve enjoyed – there are many more out there that others also love!)