Why you should play violent video games.
In my last blog I wrote about why children or any person should not play violent video games. Now its time to hear arguments or benefits that players receive from playing these types of games. Although it may seem oxymoronic that there would be any benefits at all to playing violent video games, there are.
Video games seem to magically grasp the attention and focus of the players like nothing else. This is no accident. Games have been manufactured to deliver what positive psychologists call ‘flow’. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as; “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” For Csikszentmihalyi, flow is the key to unlocking happiness.
Video games are made to be challenging, hard, yet achievable enough so that the player can develop mastery. This along with the on screen eye candy of flashing lights, and complex moving parts, stimulates players brains, these manufactured experiences put gamers in altered mind states, which create happiness. Video game theorist Jane McGonigal claims that video games offer superior human experiences that real life does not, part of her claim is because of the ‘flow’ or happiness that players experience when they play. In a matter of minutes players can achieve mastery of the game space and flow, creating powerful mix of psychological benefits that you can just top up whenever you pick up a controller.
“There is virtually nothing as engaging as this state of working at the very limits of your ability — or what both game designers and psychologists call ‘flow.’ When you are in a state of flow, you want to stay there: both quitting and winning are equally unsatisfying outcomes.” — Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
Through my work with young people I was recently privileged enough to visit a Young Offenders Institution, a prison for children under 18. Many of the young people are there for murders, assaults and dangerous crimes. The prison I visited in particular, was the most violent young offenders institution in the UK. I was surprised to find out that the young people are given Xbox’s for free, based on good behaviour. Even when the young people behave negatively and are disciplined, either through getting their TV’s or DVD players taken away, they are still given other counsels that are older in order to play. After observing for a while and speaking to the officers and staff, it is evident that the Xbox’s are used as a deterrent to crime, assaults, and negative behaviour and used as an incentive to good behaviour. When speaking with the young people, I would ask what they would do all day in their pads (prison cells) and they would shrug their shoulders and say “Play Xbox”. I noticed that the ones that did engage with their Xbox daily, seemed to be more happy or perhaps content. Whilst the others were more on edge and fighting more, assaulting staff and displaying negative behaviours. Perhaps the fruit of experiencing ‘flow’.
The games that are really effective in helping us achieve ‘flow’ are first person or third person shooters. Games like Call of Duty, Fortnight, and even non-shooters like DOTA, World of Warcraft. This is not a call to take up violent games, video games like FIFA, Mario Kart, and more are able to help us achieve flow. This blog post isn’t about how bad flow is either, its found in the natural world and is beneficial but perhaps its time to consider whether its healthy or beneficial to stay in this mental state for prolonged periods of time and even more so, not seeking this outside of game worlds. What activities or hobbies can you take up that will help you obtain mastery and flow in real life? Perhaps Christian spirituality can step in its place with things like prayer, meditation, contemplation, and worship, could these spiritual practices, if done routinely provide the equivalent and even more than what these machines with their psychological hacks provide.
At the heart of what Discover God is trying to do is make people aware of what video games are, and how they effect us as humans, and how to reconcile that with God.