In 1987, my parents bought me an NES. Technically, I started gaming earlier than that, playing Wheel of Fortune on either a 286 or 386 (I don’t remember what we had), some maze game and Tass Times in Tonetown on the Commodore 64, and a few others. Though I started with those, the NES is what really drew me in to the gaming life. I remember spending hours playing Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Blaster Master, and so many more games. That love of gaming has continued to this day, and has been passed on to my kids.
So what does that brief history have to do with this site? Let’s back up to the early 1990’s. When I was in 6th grade, I ended up winning our school spelling bee and going to the regionals. Here’s the kicker, the word that won me the school spelling bee was “basilisk.” The only reason I knew that word was because of a game I was playing that had the basilisk as an enemy (I think Final Fantasy 2 [technically Final Fantasy 4] on the SNES).
That lesson has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t recognize it and couldn’t articulate it at the time, but ever since then (especially as an adult), I’ve been a proponent of the educational value and power of video games. And I’m not talking about “educational games” or “edutainment.” Those are a completely different set of games, where you know the whole purpose of the game is to learn something. I’m talking about the educational value of “non-educational” games, which provide an avenue for natural learning, rather than enforced learning. When I say natural learning, I mean learning by playing without realizing you’re learning, similar to how kids learn about the world through play and exploration.
Lessons like inventory and team management while playing RPGs such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Text heavy games like Planescape: Torment are great for enhancing vocabulary and reading levels. Shooters and action heavy games such as Doom and BioShock are great for building hand/eye coordination. Puzzle games like Tetris and The Witness improve cognitive abilities. With the complexity of modern games, many games are a mashup of genres and incorporate all these educational elements and more.
Along with the natural learning presented in games, I believe games can teach us spiritual, emotional, and social lessons. As a follower of Jesus, I often see Biblical parallels in video games. The Bible portrays the character of God and who we are through the various historical accounts, prophetic visions, and parables taught. Video games also portray these things through the various characters and stories.
Much like the Bible can act as a mirror, so too can video games. We can see our own attitudes and motives in the characters we play as. Parallels of personal faith can be found in the actions and personalities of those same characters. By watching the characters grow and change, we can see aspects of ourselves, and possibly see ways we can (or need to) grow and change.