Why gaming can make you a better person

MELD columnist and ex-gamer Marcella Purnama shares her thoughts on why video games might actually be making you a better person.

Photo: Bruno Cordioli via flickr

When I say I was a gamer, I really was, and not just a mild one. Was I hardcore? Perhaps. You be the judge.

I once finished Final Fantasy VIII five times just to have all the limit breaks, get all the characters’ level to 100, have all the Guardian Forces, finish all the side missions, collect all the cards, download the four different walkthroughs and fall in love with the main character, without ever touching a thing called a gameshark. After all, my dignity and pride would never allow me to cheat.

Sounds extreme? Well, I’ve done the exact same thing with Legend of Mana, Legend of Dragoon and Final Fantasy VII, to name a few. And I’ve tried to marry five different girls in Harvest Moon. … okay, that sounded a bit wrong.

I’ve also perfected the art of Chocobo Racing. I’ve played a bit of Gran Turismo, Tekken and Final Fantasy IX (because disc two keeps freezing and no stores sell Play Station 1 games anymore…).

I’ve gone weeks with minimum sleep. Snapped at anyone, and I mean, anyone, who dared disturb me when I was battling the bosses. Endured my mum’s wrath when I skipped dinner… yet again.

When Nintendo DS came along, I (humbly) self-proclaimed myself a good Mario Kart player, even though I didn’t actually own a DS. I even battled my (male) peers in high school and gained a respectable (if not questionable) reputation for my skills. There was only one person who I couldn’t beat. But I still kicked ass without spending hours playing the game and without drift.

Yes… you read that right. I am a Mario Kart player who doesn’t do drift.

While I didn’t think I had a problem, my parents obviously did because they refused to give into my pleas and buy me a Play Station 2. I never did get to play Final Fantasy X, but once in a while, a friend would come to my house with her PS2 in tow and we’d play Fatal Frame and Devil May Cry.

If you’ve never played Fatal Frame, you won’t know how scary it is, especially when we vowed to turn off all the lights while playing it. Dang, that game was so scary, we usually wanted to just be an observer, not a player.

I am (or was) a good Dance Dance Revolution player, both with feet and the stick, and I took pride in becoming one.

There were benefits to being a gaming addict outside of simply finding something to fill the hours with. Socialising with the guys was easier because I knew their vocab.

Clearly, non-gamers would never understand limit breaks, cross-square-triangle-circle or some other combination, boost, magic, attack, heal, potion, junction, etc.

Most girls wouldn’t even care, which put me at an obvious advantage when I was looking for a prom date.

I played Time Crisis and Initial D at the arcade, although I never become good at them (too much money would be spent playing those).

And then, somewhere during my senior high years, I just stopped playing… everything.

Age caught up with me too soon, I guess. Since that day I haven’t played a single game. At least, none that requires serious effort and brain power.

Still, I am proud to call myself an ex-gamer. Those years spent gaming taught me perseverance and the importance of trying again and again, even if you’ve been defeated by the boss 20 times already.

These games forced me to think outside the box, to complete a mission and not give up because I needed to finish in order to go to the next level. They taught me to look at the details, to master the art of perfection.

Or at least, that’s what I believe.

Not to say that it’s cool to be ex-gamer. How many girls out there are, or were, gamers? Not many I bet.

Somehow with the creation of iPad and iTouch, games have lost their spark. When children become bored of one game, they switch easily. When they’re stuck, they never want to try more than twice to overcome the bosses. Of course, this is just a theory, but wouldn’t these actions then manifest in your ideologies and attitudes towards the rest of your life?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Of course, now I have become one of those girls who can’t stand guys who play excessive video games. Not at this age. If they play and still function at a normal level, good. But if they neglect everything else to just finish a game, then there’s clearly a problem.

When I look back at my youth, I am proud of what I’ve accomplished. Those hours spent gaming, contradictory to what you might think, were not lost at all. As Randy Paush once said, “Head fakes exist”.

I believe that I wouldn’t be who I am now if it weren’t for all those hours spent trying to beat the bosses.

And you know what? I had fun. I can share my gaming stories with others instead of recapping vague memories about studying and extra tutoring outside school. And if that doesn’t make it all worth it, I don’t know what does.

Do you agree with Marcella? Do video games teach us important life skills? Share in the comments box below!

There are 11 comments

  1. Wai Hong Fong

    Great story. And yes, video games are great platforms to learn life skills, as long as we know how to transfer them over to a different context. p.s. Legend of Dragoon rox.

  2. Amanda Yap

    Loved this, Marcella! And I firmly believe that the quick reflexes I have today were gained purely from all those hours of gaming too! 😉

  3. Marcella Purnama

    lol. please. don’t. Let me enjoy my retirement first. And Wai Hong, I love love love Legend of Dragoon! 🙂

  4. Natasha

    Agreee! I can see that I’ve learned more vocabs whenever I finish a game. Sometimes I even have to look up the word in my giant dictionary to complete a quest. Awesome writing Ella! Keep it up 🙂

  5. Yosua

    Excellent piece. Totally on board with how profound the gaming experience can be.
    p.s. Squall was way cool, grew up wanting to be like him.

  6. Marcella Purnama

    @ Yosua: I grew up wanting a boyfriend like Squall… (and now playing “Eyes on me” on iTunes for the umpteenth time..
    @ Julian: YES I COLLECTED ALL THE CARDS! (beating the CC group, tracking down the Queen of cards… Totally love it.) I didn’t play Chrono Cross tho.

  7. Zhungyi

    Respect. Female gamers are few and far between. I think opportunities for learning exist in every form, even in games. It’s how we as a person react and what we learn from each instance that define who we are. I think that games have a generally negative association, being seen as a time-waster, or in extreme cases, as a catalyst for rage and violence. But there are certainly life skills to be learnt from games.

    When you mentioned that games nowadays have lost their spark, I attribute it to games being made easier, to appeal more to the masses and to ensure it fits with the widest audience possible. Most serious gamers find it harder to enjoy games nowadays because a lot of the work and thinking has been done for them. They are just expected to sit back, enjoy the gorgeous graphics, and rack up achievements that are solely for display.

    Take Diablo III for example. Blizzard took a lot of the fun out of it by simplifying the skill system and talent builds. Sure it was easier to understand, but it gave the game a very Arcade-y feel. Even the joys of item farming is diminished.

    But just my 2 cents. Great article.

  8. Visien Vinesa

    If gaming could make a person like you, then I do belive the post title.

    And it’s kinda shocking to know your gaming story. It was kinda invisible in high school (besides the mario kart and initial D of course)

  9. pich

    yes, maybe girls don’t play games as much as guys. but in my home country, i’ve known quite a few girls who play games, especially those RPG, FF series. i’m a fan too. wow, playing 5 times of FF8 is extreme ^^” but i understand if you like the game so much. i did that with FF7 but the score was no where near perfect. i just played because i like the story. i’m not sure about other games, but i agree totally that RPG games make you learn things. something very important as well. inspiring too.

    i remember playing fatal frame too. scared me everytime when i was in my own bedroom or bathroom. silent hill is another good one to creeps you out XD

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