Games, both analog and digital, sometimes have a reputation for frivolity. They are often dismissed as a way to idle away the hours. However, in the past few decades more and more research has been conducted that show the importance of games to hone skills and keep the mind sharp. The Manchester Evening News recently reported computer games can help dementia patients, though in this study the focus was on more physical games.
In the animal world too, one can see that of the species that are the most playful – namely mammals – most of the games the young play hone whatever skills that species needs to survive and thrive. Bear cubs for example can be seen play wrestling and mock fighting—traits that they would need to survive in their sometimes harsh surroundings.
In many ways, games provide a framework within a society—including, perhaps, animal societies—for a place to practice and hone skills that the society deems necessary or important. Bringing the topic on more concrete terms, we see across the world games that adults play with children to boost memory skills, for example, as we see memorization as a valuable ability in the adult world.
As adults, we often fall into the trap of stagnation regarding learning. Usually, we have a specific set of skills we need for our job and to manage our lives, and beyond that, there’s often little direct demand for one to learn a new skill. Perhaps partly as a result of this, we regulate games to the world of leisure and frivolity. However, just because one matures doesn’t mean that games lose their ability to teach us.
One of the most practical examples of this situation is gaming, or for sake of ease of access, mobile gaming. Such games can hone real-world, everyday skills that we can all use. For instance, when setting up a mobile bingo account, a strict bankroll is advised. The bankroll refers to the maximum amount of money a player is willing to spend on gaming. If that number is 100 USD, it’s advised only to invest 50 and to keep the rest in reserve. The bankroll is also created only after a (potential) player deducts standard living costs from the income.
In this way, online gaming teaches and reinforces skills such as self-discipline and budget planning. Skills most valuable to nearly all every adult in the world. It’s not simply the every day that is taught with games. Computer games especially have become highly complex and intricate experiences that can take hundreds of hours to learn, let alone to master.
It goes further than that though. Stockholm-based computer game designer Paradox Interactive is known for producing what are known as “grand strategy” games. Beyond normal strategy games, these complex simulations often take the player from the infancy of a country, city, royal dynasty, or whatever else through hundreds of years of existence and ultimately to primacy in the game if the player is successful.
One of the most prominent features in these games is managing an economy. As is the case the reality, economies need to be balanced between infrastructure investment and development, technological research, the operating costs of a military, and all balanced against domestic powers’ interests. Despite how abstract those concepts might sound, throughout gameplay, the games teach the player (sometimes in the harshest manner possible) about how closely linked politics and the economy are, given people a more nuanced view of real-world economies and politics.
For those who aren’t willing to invest so much time in playing a computer game, there are games with far less of a steep learning curve. Tycoon games, as they are called, usually start the player with next to nothing and the player has to then grow their railroad empire, modern city, tropical island, theme park, etc. In this business-simulation genre, players learn to prioritize spending and think with long-term planning in mind. Again, skills that most people would find most necessary for living in our world.
Although the stigma of games amounting to little more than a flippant waste of time persists in some societies, it is in fact fading. Researchers keep looking into the benefits of gaming, and mainstream audiences have embraced gaming in the 21st century in the same fashion they embraced music in the 20th. With so much that games can teach us, including practical money-management skills, it’s hard to see that as anything other than good.
As real world emulators, computer games can help one learn new skills.
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