Video games: A playground for the mind
If you live in an on-campus dormitory, chances are you’ve seen them, sitting around and usually making an uproar while mashing away at their controllers, manipulating images you may not quickly comprehend on the television screen.
What may be surprising is that gamers are not lagging behind the average student when it comes to learning effectively; in fact, they might be ahead of the learning curve. Ask a responsible student gamer about their habits, however, and you get the sense that gaming is somewhat a guilty pleasure.
“Time management was, and still is my biggest issue with games,” said pre-pharmacy junior Akshith Yellapragada.
“Because of the fact that whenever I play a game, I don’t want to just “play” it, I want to get really good at it, I end up practicing with friends a lot, and that’s time that can easily be spent in more productive ways.”
Some students aren’t able to balance the time spent playing games and studying, either.
“When I started gaming freshman year (and) sophomore year, I kind of forgot that I had classes to go to and things to study for,” said biology and human nutrition and food studies junior Jeri Altizer.
“I found out the hard way that I can’t work efficiently if I game during school.”
“Everything in moderation” is the adage best applicable to hobbies, including video games. But video games are carving their own niche by allowing players to build skills in multiple cognitive areas. Games have long been recognized as effective virtual problem solving tools, allowing players to build on past experiences to solve current problems without real-world repercussions and the chance to keep working at the problem until they can solve it.
According to New York University, games allow “continual monitoring of learning as a process—not simply the learner’s ability to perform at one point in time.” Many college courses consist of few real assessments, giving fewer chances to assess a student’s status as the course progresses.
NYU’s list of positive attributes for video games includes “creating communities of practice,” wherein students learn beneficial skills.
For Yellapragada and others, it’s as easy as plugging in a console and pressing Start. The modern college campus isn’t scarce for gamers either — according to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of college students report playing video games. A 2003 Pew study reported that “college student gamers’ reported hours studying per week match up closely with those reported by college students in general.”
Gamers don’t study any less, but in some instances, they engage in critical thinking a lot more — New York University’s publication noted the “highly engaging, individualized learning” and bridging in- and out-of-school learning.
“Being a gamer has … allowed me to use in-game strategies to efficiently navigate around campus and finding the safest routes during night-time commutes,” said computer engineering technology junior Stillwell Pan.
Unlike Yellapragada and Altizer, who devote free — and sometimes study — time to playing video games, Pan said he “plays video games during class time only,” though he says he has had no challenges concerning his schoolwork. He falls into the 2003 Pew survey’s 32 percent of students that play video games that aren’t a part of the instructional activities during classes.
In addition to skill-building, video games have carved their own niche in the competitive industry, with players able to earn thousands of dollars. On Dec. 5, the Military Times reported that Robert Morris University in Chicago would offer a gaming scholarship to prospective students, and though the trend seems to be growing to the point where even ESPN President John Skipper had to address it, he was cited as declaring video games a “non-sport.”
“I’m mostly interested in doing real sports,” Skipper said to the Associated Press after comparing video games to other mental games like chess and checkers. However, Skipper acknowledged their significance.
“You can’t really ignore it.”
Games are an effective way of working on cognitive skills and building on them, whether they are a recreational hobby or a destructive habit. Though students may not feel like they are learning from what they play, they are getting a lot more out of it than time away from school — and it is more socially constructive than once believed.
“It’s allowed me to meet a lot of new people, making friends that I’d most likely never be able to meet in any other way,” Yellapragada said.
“It’s basically a sign that says, ‘We have the same interests, come over and let’s be friends’ when I’m playing games in public.”