Look Closer At The Impact Of Video Games

Gilbert C. Anton

A video game saved my life.

It all began with a phone call I received late one night from my father, one whose every detail I can still clearly remember as he informed me that my brother Manuel had been killed.

That night seemingly threw my entire life into a downward spiral as I lost hope in everything I had held dear to me.

I broke up with my longtime girlfriend, shut myself off from close friends, nearly dropped out a dozen times, abandoned my faith, grew hostile to most people around me and hid all the details of what I was going through from my family. It was like falling into a dark hole that just wouldn’t let go of me and frankly, I didn’t care enough to try to break free. I had given up on life.

Until I started playing a game called “Lost Odyssey.”

There is a moment in the game where the main character is reunited with his daughter, whom he believed dead, only to have her pass away moments later in his arms. It was a moment so genuine, touching and heartbreaking that I began to relive the moment I learned Manuel died.

I broke down and wept harder than I even had at my brother’s funeral. I actively fought to hold back what I was feeling at his funeral, trying desperately to maintain my composure, but this moment caught me so unprepared and unaware that I couldn’t fight any of it back. Then the game did something I didn’t expect, as its next section directed me to make a series of actions in the game to prepare for, and engage in a funeral ceremony for the character.

That was the moment when I finally started to move past my brother’s death.

This interaction provided me with the catalyst I had not been given anywhere else, a way for me to feel as though I was actively sending him off, not just passively watching him leave my life forever.

There were many other influences in my life following that day that helped me to finally reach the end of that period in my life and find closure over Manuel, but it was a video game that started me down that path. I was not brought out of the abyss by a book, a song, a counselor, a loving family member or some miraculous event but instead, by a lone section in a video game.

In the wake of the announcement last week over the controversial decision by the Supreme Court against California’s proposed law to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors, I have found myself looking back at that moment and my own lost odyssey.

Seeing how vehemently anti-video games so many people are, made me realize that the problem is one of basic understanding. We fear what we do not understand and clearly so many don’t really understand what role video games can play in the lives of others.

I know I am leaving myself open to criticism, ridicule and disgust by sharing my own experience but I do so because that experience is not isolated and may help people understand the positive impact video games have on people.

Take Greg Miller of IGN.com, who shared his story of working through the painful experience of a divorce through a video game. Jane McGonigal’s story of designing a game for people dealing with injuries, based on her own experience dealing with a severe concussion.

Even video game technology has had a positive impact in the world. Right now in Sunnybrook Hospital in Canada, surgeons are using Kinect video game technology in the operating room to aid with the speed and accuracy of surgeries, potentially increasing the very chance of success for each operation and by extension the chance to save lives.

People have focused their love of video games into actions intended to help others. Charities such as Child’s Play and Extra Life hold gaming marathons, contests and special events to raise money and awareness for organizations like St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. When you hear arguments that claim video games are so dangerous to children, just stop and think how many children have benefitted from the actions of those whose love of video games and own experiences playing games as a child, compelled them to action.

Many more examples of the positive impact video games have on people’s lives are out there and my suggestion is for people to take the time to listen to them. Take a step back from the mud slinging and convoluted arguments that have sprung up around the recent Supreme Court decision.

Instead allow yourself to hear stories like my own, Greg Miller’s and Jane McGonigal’s. Look into the work of organizations like Child’s Play and Extra Life. Look at the positive impact that video games can have on the lives of those who interact with them before you assume the worst about video games.

In the end, a video game has the potential to save a person’s life. It was a video game that saved mine.