By Madeleine Post, @madeleine_post

Games have power — an undeniable fact. From the gradual thrill of winning a Monopoly game to the booming development of virtual reality technologies, the power within and surrounding games has become a culture-defining aspect of postmodern reality. Yet this power, like most products of the human mind, is a double-edged sword, effecting significant benefits, as well as problems. While technology developers and entrepreneurs are harnessing these benefits, they often overlook the inevitable: a generation obsessed with virtual reality.

I’m constantly railing my little brothers, Max and Ben, for spending so much time on their screens. So I decided to ask them: what, exactly, are the benefits of games played on screens? Listen to this clip from our conversation, where Max and Ben, along with two of their neighborhood friends, share their thoughts on how games impact their lives:

This brief conversation fascinated me, clear from my very loud, "That's interesting," (I'm not fantastic at this whole interview with an iPhone thing). This group of kids was able to instantly pinpoint the benefits of games, which instantly led to a conversation about the negative aspects of gaming. It was almost as if they experienced the benefits and shortcomings of gaming simultaneously.

Games have positive aspects. According to Frank Lanzt, director of the game center at NYU, games, "have a deep relationship to the STEM skills of logic and reason, empiricism and scientific method." Constance Steinkuehler Squire, associate professor in digital media and co-director of the games+learning+Society center at the University of Wisconsin-madison, argues for the social benefits of gaming:

You create these communities around the game that do an incredible amount of intellectual work, and when they’re done with the work, they will leave the game and go on to another game that’s more challenging.

Yet at what cost does this "intellectual work" come? Are we trading common strategizing experiences for the virtual worlds in which they exclusively exist?

Pediatric researcher Dmitri Christakis identifies the amount of stimulation kids receive from a society saturated in technology. In his TED talk at Rainier, Christakis outlined the sheer quantity of time kids spend on their screens: a startling 4.5 hours a day.  Christakis identifies “Technologizing childhood” as a mounting problem facing our society into which TV time, games, and various forms of social media factor. 

In spite of the negative aspects of games, they play crucial role in today's technological advances. Mark Zuckerberg discusses the bright future technology developers appear to have in light of the past 20 years of innovations:

History suggests there will be more platforms to come, and that whoever builds and defines these will not only shape all of the experiences that our industry builds but will also benefit financially and strategically.

As 59% of Americans game, the video game industry contributed $4.95 billion to the U.S. GDP last year. Entrepreneurs like Will Wright (creator of The Sims) and Marcus Tupperainen (who designed Angry Birds) have changed the way game developers think about games today, paving the way for a new group of gaming technology innovators.

Advances in gaming technology point to the larger phenomenon of technological growth effecting us today. The question is: how much will we allow technology to effect us? There is a balance we must achieve between viewing technology as a tool and allowing our lives to become consumed by technology. Perhaps a first step we can take in ensuring that our technological lives are balanced involves getting in touch with our roots as members of the natural world, a very different place from the virtual worlds we often invest so much time in. Taking a hike, building a camp fire, and even baking bread are all ways we can get in touch with the role we humans play in the natural world. 

AuthorMadeleine Post