Video games aren’t just a waste of time

So I spent a large part of my Saturday playing a video game called Atelier Iris 3. It’s an old role-playing game for the Playstation 2. No 3-D graphics here; just a 2-Dimensional character walking through a 2-dimensional world, although the up-and-down dimension is frequently used to portray North-South directionality. For those who have played online games such as Ragnarok Online, you know what I’m talking about. I don’t care that the game is 5 years old, and that the graphics aren’t mind-blowingly awesome, unlike other 3-D rendered games out there. I enjoy the game for the gameplay, not the appearance.

The biggest turn-on for me is its alchemy system, which allows you to synthesize special items out of raw materials that you collect from different areas in the game’s world. The alchemy system is an interesting exercise in decision-making with regards to investment of resources: for example, if my character, Edge (I can’t choose any other character) has 60 HP left out of 137, and is fighting a monster that still has full health, and I have a spinacherb in my inventory, which recovers about 30 HP (I don’t really keep track), I can choose to use it immediately or try to kill the monster without fighting it. If I feel like I have a decent chance of defeating the monster, I will just fight it out. I will later be able to go back to the workshop and synthesize a heal jar, one of the ingredients of which is the spinacherb.

To avoid such difficult choices, I try to make sure that my character is never lacking in healing items; there are many ways to do this. I can pick up any and all random items lying around on the off-chance that they’re useful; if I don’t want to waste my time, I’ll simply purchase healing items in town. Such items may also appear as rewards for completing quests. I also usually prefer to use items in my inventory to synthesize higher-yield items. I already mentioned the example of the spinacherb before, but there are many other examples, which can apply to the synthesis of weapons, defense items, stat-boosting accessories and equipment, and so on. If I plan my moves right, I can get through the game within 24 hours without getting killed once.

Video games are fun, and if they are designed well, they can be useful in teaching the young and the young at heart about the values of planning and delayed gratification. An engaging game can teach students the importance of paying attention, critical thinking, and setting priorities due to limitations in resources. Of course, Atelier Iris 3 isn’t the best example of that; if I remember correctly, the player can store up to 99 pieces of each item in his inventory, which is of course impossible in real life (yes, yes, fantasy video games are imaginary, but that doesn’t mean they should advocate lazy thinking). There are games out there with more realistic limits.

The danger, of course, is that the player would become overly involved in this and start to neglect other parts of his life. But isn’t there such a danger in any hobby or interest? One can spend too much time memorizing math formulas and forget to do his household chores. One can spend so much time playing sports, from which he can get a healthy spirit of competition and teamwork, that he takes his schoolwork for granted. As with anything, video games are an experience one can learn from, but something that should be tempered. Parents should not automatically dismiss these as a wasteful distraction or a way to keep their kids occupied, but try to supervise their children on their many adventures.