5 Ways Video Games Are Saving Mankind
Far from being the harbingers of obesity, virginity, death, and destruction that many people (still) insist they are, video games have been shown to be beneficial in many surprising ways. We've documented this before, and we're about to do it again, since science continues to find ways that video games are helping the species become better, stronger, and faster (figuratively, anyway).
You Can Learn Fascinating Things About the Economy from MMOs
You wouldn't think you could learn a lot about society just by watching a person play a video game (other than that some members of society just cannot play FPS games without continually jumping around like jackasses). But experts are finding that if you want to model economic theories, just find a massively multiplayer online game and follow the imaginary gold. Right now, there are economists who are actually being paid to study how the digital currency flows in the world of fantasy MMOs.
First of all, if you don't play these games, you have no idea how advanced the economies are -- it's not just, "Kill the monster, grab the gold he drops." There are banks and banking scandals -- a 2009 Eve Online bank collapsed when its shady owner made off with all of the bank's money, trading it for real-life cash and then disappearing into the darkness (aka deleting his account and clicking over to porn). There are even stock markets -- in 2007, an unregulated Second Life stock market experienced a rapid rise-and-crash that saw $145,000 in investments quickly reach $900,000, then drop by 71 percent just as fast.
"Crap, my furry porn town is hemorrhaging money to the straight-up beastiality village."
That's the sort of thing that is interesting to people like Eyjolfur Gudmundsson and Yanis Varoufakis, economists who have been hired by game companies CCP Games and Valve, respectively, to manage their games' economic models. They've since discovered that these games serve as the ultimate financial experiment, allowing experts to observe how markets fluctuate, survive, and thrive in circumstances that can't be duplicated in the real world.
After all, you can't just simulate economic theory on a computer and see how it goes -- real economies are made up of human beings, and it's pretty much impossible for a computer model to guess what they're going to do. And you can't just try shit in the real world to see what happens -- not even tiny little booger countries like Andorra would be cool about becoming an economical petri dish that may or not result in total depression. But in a gaming world, you have millions of players dealing with virtual currency and goods -- things that are totally real (to them) and cause them to make decisions accordingly. Players work for in-game "gold" (by killing monsters or crafting items), and, therefore, that gold represents their labor ... just like real money
Given, the cash drawer has to be super freakin' sturdy.
And experts say that researching all of this has uncovered several fascinating tidbits. For instance, MMO banks tend to operate on a full-reserve system, where 100 percent of the customers' money is kept in the bank at all times. This is opposed to the real world fractal-reserve system, where physical cash can be lent out willy-nilly whenever deemed necessary. It's pretty much an honor system economy (honorconomy?) that, according to Gudmundsson, "increases the burden on banks to be diligent and efficient." Shockingly, most virtual bankers stay on the up-and-up, and virtual money is trusted to be in safe hands.
And the libertarians out there will like reading about how, in all of these cases, the games' libertarian/anarchic financial models caused their economies to recover from crashes much more rapidly than in the real world (as did things like, say, the lack of a minimum wage). You can argue among yourselves what that means (after all, it's also legal to just totally murder people inside a video game, and stick your balls in their face), but it's good information either way.
Teflon codpiece sales just went through the roof.
MMOs Provide Management Experience You Can't Get Anywhere Else
Wait a second ... if these games have fully functioning economies, could a person actually learn to be a business manager or executive, just by organizing World of Warcraft raids and fighting EVE Online space battles? Absolutely.
These games require cooperation with dozens or (in the case of EVE) even thousands of teammates. And we don't mean cooperation that only helps in the game world (like knowing that slaying Gruul the Dragonkillers requires 12 players to simultaneously cast Magic Missile on his dick) -- we're talking about managing real people, on a day-to-day basis. Remember, that even in the game world, these are human beings -- getting them to cooperate means motivating them, resolving personality conflicts, inspiring their confidence in you as a leader -- the whole bit.
"Let's get focused, guys. I'm not hearing the level of racism that I know we're capable of."
"Okay, Cracked, then why don't any of those loser WoW players become CEOs?"
You mean like Stephen Gillett, who became Chief Information Officer of Starbucks before his 30th birthday? He credits playing MMO's with turning him into a better, and more motivated, worker. To him, organizing a Monday morning staff meeting gets his blood pumped just as much as organizing a raid on the Lich King. Or Trey Ratcliff, the obsessive EVE player who became CEO and co-founder of his own game company. Hell, Harvard Business Review did a whole article on the subject, referring to these games as "leadership's online labs."
"Great job. Now call her a whore so she knows who runs the show."
It makes perfect sense, if you think about it -- you can put somebody through business school to teach them economic theory, give them a dozen classes on psychology and even give them an internship at a Fortune 500 company making copies for the summer. But where in the real world will they learn how to manage a team of a hundred people? Where would they get the experience of communicating and coordinating with dozens of other humans, from all over the world, who each have the option to leave if they're not happy with how the "project" is being run?
So you can make fun of how impulsive, immature, or entitled gamers are, but think about what that says about the person who is able to successfully get a thousand of them to peacefully cooperate. Are you honestly saying that person couldn't figure out how to manage a room full of telemarketers?
"We don't need another fire mage. You can go arcane, or you can get the fuck out."
Yes, War Games Do Train People to be More Effective Soldiers
There are two extremes in the "effects of violent video games on kids" debate. One says that these games train kids to kill, for the same reason shooting at human-shaped targets helps recruits in combat. The other says that FPS games don't teach kids to kill any more than Mario games taught them plumbing.
But maybe there's something to be learned from the fact that the U.S. military's interest in video gaming no longer begins and ends with lazy staff sergeants slacking off over games of Minesweeper.
"You think The Hurt Locker was shit? Wait'll you see my job."
The fact is, it looks like games do seem to make people better at soldiering, but not for the reasons critics think (that it makes kids into bloodthirsty killers). It's more about making them better at multitasking on the fly.
According to a 2003 study from the University Of Rochester, playing games that demand you spread your attention over multiple things at once (killing enemies, protecting allies, navigating obstacles, scarfing down week-old pizza) helps you pay more attention to everything around you. You can see how this would extend the real-world battlefield, where all those factors are present, minus maybe the pizza. Then the U.S. Department of Defense upped the ante by concluding, "video game players perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than normal people." That's so impressive we'll let the implication that gamers are not "normal people" slide.
And they're absolutely putting their money where their mouth is on this. Not satisfied with ordering their privates to go home and play Call Of Duty, the military is using top-the-line technology to create insanely realistic games of their own -- they've spent over $50 million since 2008, providing soldiers with the most consistently up-to-date simulations possible. Thus, they can now recreate just about any battlefield brouhaha, from controlling virtual version of robots that detonate bombs, to playing through raids and ambushes pieced together from footage of real-world enemy activity.
So, uh, these games wouldn't happen to be for sale, would they? We kind of want to try them.
They're only laughing because the PTSD hasn't kicked in yet.
Games Are Turning out to be Great for Physical Rehab
Back when the Nintendo Wii came out in 2006, you may have seen all sorts of news stories about how people were using it to exercise, and usually they had some video of old people in a nursing home playing Wii Sports Bowling or whatever. Then, like a year later everybody stuffed their Wii into their closet because it really is kind of a pain in the ass to have to stand up and flail your arms around instead of kicking back with a control pad (hell, how many of you are still using your Kinect?).
But that doesn't mean the nursing homes got rid of their consoles. It's not because the elderly are big into Mario Kart, but because video games are turning out to be great tools for physical rehab.
"Which one of you bitches wants my virtual boot up your cyber ass?"
You can just ask the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, for instance. They found if you stick the injured party in front of a Wii Fit, they're likely to rehab longer and harder. Why? It's no mystery -- it's because these games are not the pure hell of mind-numbing tedium that is normal rehab. Yes, if a gamer is choosing between Wii Fit and sitting on his ass and playing Black Ops, he's probably going to choose the latter, as proven by plummeting Wii sales over the last few years. But if a rehab patient is choosing between a Wii fitness game and having a therapist shout "NOW SQUAT! AGAIN!" over and over, they're going to pick the Wii.
This is far from a new idea, by the way; researchers at Moscow State University were testing controlled movement gaming on children with Erb's Palsy as far back as 1995. The game not only improved the children's arm control, but motivated them to rehab harder, because again, fun. In fact, their desire to win was so great, they were willing to fight through the pain, in order to collect the reward at the end. Even if the reward was simply pixelated potato vodka on the rocks.
"Mmmmmm. Can I get a block of olives, while I'm at it?"
This isn't just the games that make you get up and move, either -- the iPad has turned out to be a blessing for disabled kids. The National Down's Syndrome Center found that kids with the disease are using tablet games, with buttons that correspond to simple phrases, to tell people what they're thinking. If they want pizza, they tap the button that says, "I want," and the button that says "pizza," and the tablet blurts out, "I want pizza." The iPad interface means basically zero training is required to learn the device, so the kids are able to jump right into the learning games for the same reason your grandma got into Angry Birds.
"I fucking know what it is! Back off before I murder you right in the child!"
Games Can Improve Parents' Relationships With Children (If They Play Together)
Parents, do you feel like video games have stolen your child? Whereas once your innocent angel talked of sports and school, do they now barely grunt out a "hello" before immediately bolting for another round of Chainsaw Guns Of War? But what can you do? You might as well turn in your parent card now, because the XBox is your kid's new mommy.
Or you could, you know, join them.
"You want me to pay for college? Better start practicing your offense."
The Journal of Adolescent Health did a study that found that children who played video games with parents behave better, feel more connected to their families, and have stronger overall mental health. Not bad, huh? Well, there are two caveats. One, your kid has to be a girl. According to the study, boys turn out the exact same, whether you play together or leave them alone.
Also, the games have to be age-appropriate. Any positive effects your daughter could gain from co-gaming are nullified, once the games become too mature for their demographic. So picking up a copy of Lollipop Chainsaw for your 7-year-old will not only nullify any positive effects gaming might bestow, it would also confuse the shit out of her.
"Daddy ... what's a prostitute, and why do you keep beating her with a crowbar?"
That's not to say that gaming with your son is useless; according to research from Dr. Randy Kulman of LearningWorks for Kids, if your kid (either gender) gets pissy and irritable when they make a mistake, playing video games with them could actually help them cope. How? By showing them that you screw up sometimes, too. Gaming, in other words, is kind of an equalizer -- you're stepping into the world where your kid doesn't feel inferior, and in fact can probably kick your ass. A world where it's okay to make mistakes. To a kid at that stage of life where he or she feels like they can't do anything right, that can be a goddamned breath of fresh air.
To see some entries that didn't make it, see Rich's blog here or follow him on Twitter. Patrick is a wannabe writer masquerading as an engineer. You can make fun of him on Twitter @PTatGT or send him hate mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more unexpected saviors of humanity, check out 6 People You've Never Heard of Who Probably Saved Your Life and 5 Terrifying Animals That Could Save Your Life Someday.