This is an experience that gets repeated again and again throughout my life. As gaming continues to expand, I find gamers in places where a few years ago you’d never expect them to be. One of my nurses saw me in my room during my recovery with my Nintendo DS and rather than asking what it was, asked what I was playing and waxed rhapsodically on her addiction to Animal Crossing. My experience in the hospital also gave me a new appreciation for a skill that doesn’t get enough credit — the ability for gamers to pull information off screens.
Video screens have become omnipresent in our lives to the point where we barely even notice them anymore. Despite that, the ability to pull important data from them and utilize them is an essential part of living, one I believe is enhanced by the experience of playing games. One of the things that surprised me in the hospital were the sheer number of video screens and mobile PC terminals that littered the hallways and the nurse stations, all of them containing what I presumed to be important information about the status of the patients. The trading floor of a stock exchange is loaded with screens displaying financial information sliced 7,000 different ways. Somewhere right now an American soldier is remotely guiding a Predator drone over the mountains of Afghanistan. It seems fairly obvious to me that when people argue over the deleterious effects of videogaming, they’re missing at least one obvious skill that we can do better than anybody.
My wife is constantly amazed that I never get lost in unfamiliar buildings. I can look at a map on a wall and immediately take that model in my mind and place it over the real world to get where I need to go. Anyone who’s ever directed a fire team in a Rainbow Six game wouldn’t be surprised that I can do that — they can do it too. As U.S. Presidential elections get more and more segmented and divided by demographics, better polling and electronically connected interest groups, the infamous “Red” and “Blue” maps of America become more like a strategy game, shifting and altering old power blocs as new political organizations used access to information that was once the province of men in smoky back rooms to drive agendas through previously unknown holes in the information landscape. A quick glance at a map of the waters around Somalia where a new generation of pirates is located makes it unsurprising to me that this may become a significant problem for the Obama Administration. I’ve had to move ships around Africa in a number of wargames and I know how long it takes and how important keeping commerce flowing through the Red Sea is.
Ask someone about “living virtually” and the most immediate vision that comes up probably closely resembles “The Matrix” in which we’re all attached to a computer living in some simulated fantasy world. The reality is considerably more mundane than that. We’re already living virtually in that much of the way we deal with the world is done remotely via images, data and models that come through on screens. Nowhere else in computing pushes the boundaries of computer/user interface or information condensation the way gaming does.
This is, I believe, profoundly changing how we deal with the world — how we view each other, ourselves and our place in it, and games have a place in this discussion. It’s not that games are turning us into serial killers or making us into master hax0rz but it’d be silly to claim that games have no impact on the way we think. We need to move past hysteria and cheerleading to figuring out what gaming really means for us as a people and a society.
In the meantime, I’m okay, my wounds are healing nicely and I get the staples pulled out of my stomach in about 10 days. I’m giving my doctor 150 achievement points and a big thank you for that.