[Dec. 2016 Features] Misunderstood Gamers combat stereotypes by reaping psychological benefits of video games

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By Margot Mather ’17

With a controller gripped firmly in hand, headset adjusted and a few friends watching his every move, Augustus Cardello ’17 was ready to make some money.

“I feel on edge often times when playing games with friends because I’m competitive and want to make sure that they lose,” Cardello said.

Not only did Cardello earn $10 beating a friend in the video game FIFA, he also sharpened his mind.

According to a study recently published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” playing fast-paced action video games has long-term benefits to players’ cognitive performance.

Researchers had one control group play social-oriented video games and another group play intense action games for 50 hours. At the end of the nine-week study, researchers found that the action game players consistently outperformed the non-action game players in the same exercises. These players were better able to multi-task, focus, retain information and complete cognitive exercises.

“I believe games improving memory or possibly intelligence can increase mental capabilities,” Cardello said.

“You usually do not succeed at a game by just playing it randomly. There’s got to be something that you can figure out, so it teaches you some perseverance,” programming teacher Clare Woodman argued.

Not only on a strictly personal level but, “for these big, massive, multiplayer, online games, there’s some level of collaboration and cooperation learned,” Woodman said.

However, widespread public opinion of videogames and gamers doesn’t seem to match this positive image generated by scientific studies.

“It’s labeled as a waste of time, […] and if someone did say that to me I would ask them why they care [about] how I spend my time if I’m happy,” James Trinkle ’19 said.

Cardello agreed with Trinkle, claiming, “I think a stereotype is that people who play videogames invest all their time into it but really I know many people including myself who just play with friends when we’re bored sometimes.”

It’s stereotypes like this that have led society to create a preconceived image of gamers.

Even as an almost ubiquitous pastime, with more than 1.2 billion people playing games worldwide according to a state of the industry report by Spil Games, there is a generalization of the stereotypical gamer.

“Certainly I think there are stereotypes, […] and a lot of them have to do with guys— antisocial nerdy guys. Whether that’s accurate, I don’t know,” Woodman said.

Of those 1.2 billion, about 700 million play online games. That amounts to 44 percent of the world’s online population, according to comScore data cited by Spil Games.

“There’s so many different kinds of people that play video games, so it turns out to be a really unfair judgement,” Trinkle said.

This can become a source of frustration for many gamers, as there are other games with dramatically more positive stereotypes, even if they accomplish the same positive effects on the brain.

“If playing chess ‘increases your IQ’, then why shouldn’t a more complicated type of game do the same, even if it is displayed on a screen?” Cooper Knapp ’19 said.

Knapp has participated in Super Smash Bros. video game tournaments throughout Fairfield County to compete for money, but has never made it far enough through a bracket to win money in a prize pool.

While making money playing video games is possible, a more viable option is to pursue a career in video game design. Although jobs are sparse, students remain optimistic.

“There are not many accessible career options in playing games, but the design industry as a whole is a large group,” Knapp said.  “The main jobs in this field include programmers, visual designers, sound designers, and story writers.”

At Staples, students can enroll in courses to prepare them to pursue these career paths and eventually create their own games.

“Taking Intro to Programming and other programming courses would certainly give you the foundation to start designing your own game,” Woodman said.

Introduction to Programming, as well as Web Programming, have been taught at Staples for six years, and students seeking a more intensive experience opt for the more recent AP Computer Science course, which was introduced in the last year.

However, Woodman also pointed to creativity as a source for game creation, citing that it isn’t all about STEM related courses.

“A game tells a story. A game has to have a setting, a game has characters,” Woodman said.

According to Woodman, a plot is necessary to motivate gamers to stay emotionally invested in the game.

“Even learning the process of building a story and becoming a process-oriented thinker is what helps you develop a game. The creativity part is the little hook,” Woodman said.

On the other side of professional programmers and designers is the lucrative world of YouTube entertainers. These gamers make money, as much as $12 million according to Forbes, from uploading videos of themselves playing games with commentary.

“I think it’s the most interesting thing in the world. They all have these personalities and they narrate,” Woodman said.

However, this is understood by many gamers to be a near-impossible goal.

Trinkle explains, “It’s definitely not viable, and really unrealistic because the people who […] do it make a lot of money doing it, and need a following of over 500,000 to make a decent living.”