Like anyone else who calls themselves a gamer, probably including you if you’re reading this, I’ve spent my fair share of time in front of a screen, being bombarded with electrons, a controller or mouse in my hand. When I explain to other people that, yes, I am a self sufficient adult, yes, I am gainfully employed, and yes, I play games — lots of them — as a hobby, I usually hear something along like “Why waste all that time?”
On the surface, it’s a reasonable question. I put over 300 hours into Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast, including a full 16 hour stint the day after it was released. Gran Turismo 2 didn’t come out of my Playstation for months, with easily several hundred hours spent racing and tweaking cars. It takes dozens of hours to earn the 60 honor I have on my main America’s Army account, and I have easily dozens more poured into the Civilization series, Sims and Sims 2, and other time-intensive games. Most recently, within a week of buying Dragon Warrior VIII, I had already played for 40 hours; that’s the equivalent of an entire work week for those of you keeping score.
Sure, the time goes by quickly when I’m actually playing those games, but looking back on it I sometimes wonder what I could accomplish if I had done something a little more productive. In just a fraction of the time I’ve spent on games, I could have learned a language (or two), taken up a productive hobby or sport, learned a trade, taken on a second job, or even earned a graduate degree. Looking at it this way, those innumerable hours of playing video games do seem like a waste of time.
Or are they? James Paul Gee has an opinion on that. This professor of Reading in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has some books under his belt on (among other topics) linguistics and learning, including one titled What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy. Defying reports of the negative impact of video games, Gee lays out an extremely compelling argument for the curricular benefit of mediums with active participation, like video games, making the Jack Thompson