Most parents view video games as a waste of time. With every second spent in front of the computer, they believe their children's brains are turning to mush, their IQ points are dropping, and their chances of getting into college are all but disintegrating.
Will Wright would tell you, "You're wrong." He would articulate the ways in which video games provide avenues for learning across multiple platforms, and often promote the development of intangible qualities like social interaction and community building.
Like most video games, the programs Wright creates promote failure-based education. Through trial and error, the player quickly learns how the game works; they test boundaries and eventually learn how to succeed. He has found that if you make the failures different and interesting, players will continue to explore, hypothesize and test their theories until they are completely engrossed in the game. They become better at problem solving and can even have a decreased fear of failure.
"As humans, this is the natural way we learn. Our kids come out of the womb with the ability to figure out how things work," said Wright. Even his 1 ½ year old son was able to figure out how to operate the iPad he gave him within a matter of months.
Another way in which games have a positive effect on children and adults alike is through the encouragement of imagination and creativity. In Spore, Wright's favorite of the games he's developed, players create a creature and guide its evolution from a single cell organism to a galactic civilization where it's running around with light sabers.
Other players can see this creature and often give positive feedback if they like it. One thing that Wright's observed, is that it only takes a handful of positive comments to encourage someone who previously didn't think of themselves as creative to delve deeper into their imagination and realize a talent that may have otherwise gone unused.
"Computers help us to extend the imagination, to understand a different extension of ourselves," said Wright.
Contrary to popular belief amongst certain demographics, computers can also help with social interaction.
"There is no shortage of stupid activities that people engage in," said Wright, "But you don't often see what's happening behind the scenes; the community that's created through the research and learning process [of trying to overcome 'failures' in a game]."
While playing most of these video games, players are interacting with other people, which can help them to form safe personal relationships if they happen to be agoraphobic or socially stunted in any way. And in the case of Spore, players can form sort of artists' communities where they admire and support each other's work.
In Wright's experience, video games serve a greater purpose beyond pure entertainment. But does that make you feel better about your children spending hours in front of the computer? Do you worry about their loss of social interaction or perhaps the loss of interaction with the reality around them? Let us know what you think.
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