The Real-World Benefits to Playing a Lot of Games

Never mind the fact that companies are starting to consider gaming in potential recruits. Or, how it helps people make faster decisions (with equal accuracy). Or, how people can make a full-time career of playing video games.

As bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell said in an interview with The Guardian:

I learned more about the world from playing board games than anything else. One summer I played 105 games of Monopoly in two months. We played Risk games that would take 15 hours. What you realise is that it’s nothing to do with what happens on the board. It’s everything to do with your relationships with the people you’re playing. That’s a really hard lesson to learn as a child.

While Monopoly taught Gladwell the importance of relationships at a young age, another board game taught a generation of writers how to tell stories. As the New York Times wrote in an interview with award-winning writer Junot Díaz:

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

For some, gaming didn’t teach anything. Instead, it served as an alternative to less stimulating activities for budding minds. Novelist Jon Michaud wrote in the New Yorker:

At a certain point, I gave up the war games and board games and retreated to the basement to co-habitate with the TV. A typical Saturday schedule for my twelve-year-old self looked like this: 8 to 11 A.M., cartoons; 11 A.M. to noon, Pro Bowler’s Association; noon to 3 P.M., Notre Dame football; 3 to 6 P.M., Movie of the Week; 6 to 8 P.M., Dinner, chores, family obligations, personal hygiene; 9 to 10 P.M., “The Love Boat”; 10 to 11 P.M. “Fantasy Island”; 11 P.M.: bed. It was not a glorious time in my life. I hated reading. My grades were mediocre, and my parents were worried about my prospects. I didn’t know it, but I was simply waiting for the right game to come along—a game in which there were no winners or losers. That day finally arrived in the spring of 1979. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Dungeons & Dragons saved my life.

Even in extreme cases, consider gaming an activity that serves as a substitute for alternatives that could potentially have much more concerning adverse effects:

Though its detractors see the game as a gateway to various forms of delinquency, I would argue that the reverse is true. For countless players, Dungeons & Dragons redirected teen-age miseries and energies that might have been put to more destructive uses. How many depressed and lonely kids turned away from suicide because they found community and escape in role-playing games? How many acts of bullying or vandalism were sublimated into dice-driven combat? How many teen pregnancies were averted because one of the potential partners was too busy looking for treasure in a crypt? (Make all the jokes you want, but some of my fellow-players were jocks who had girlfriends; sometimes the girlfriends played, too.) How many underage D.U.I.s never came to pass because spell tables were being consulted late into the night? (It’s hard to play D. & D. drunk; it requires too much concentration and analytical thought.)

That’s not to say gaming can’t become an addiction. In fact, with their reward loops and social elements, they’re extremely potent. But compared to many other vices or substances out there, gaming is far from the most ominous. And, gaming can be viewed as a tool to that enhances thinking rather than damage it.

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