We didn't see Fred running out and killing his family who he resented. Instead he played it out, releasing the frustration and anger in a controlled game setting. Games are a stress reliever, an escape. A pediatric dentist in Cary, NC, has a waiting room that's fitted with TVs and Xboxes to comfort and calm nervous patients. Why they have to keep this only in pediatric dentist's offices, I'll never know. My dentist prescribes me Valium. I'd rather have Final Fantasy VIII.
While games do have direct therapeutic applications, their benefits can extend beyond those suffering psychologically. Gamers should be familiar with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik's three-year-old charity, Child's Play. The creators of the mega-popular Penny Arcade webcomic started a charity in order to address yet another report about how gamers were nothing but violent, socially-repressed dorks. This charity has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of toys, books and yes, games for children's hospitals.
"Incorporating videogames marks a new frontier that taps young people's fascination with animation and electronics to sweeten often frightening, lengthy and tedious medical treatments. ... Videogames are being used, for instance, to help sick children manage pain and anxiety during hospital stays," says a Reuters report.
Every year, hospitals make a wish list of items to keep sick children occupied during treatment. The items can be as simple as a $3 coloring book to a $400 Xbox 360. And yes, several 360s make it into children's wards. The larger consoles, Nintendo GBAs, DSs, PSPs and scores of games are available for rent in hospitals, occupying young kids' times.
And who can forget the whole issue of obesity? "Games make kids fat" was one of the rallying cries, until, that is, Dance Dance Revolution came out. The game was so engaging that kids of all energy levels wanted to play, and some progressive - some might call them desperate - schools in West Virginia actually incorporated DDR into their physical education program.
Let's face it; Nothing is black and white anymore. For every kid who got fat and anti-social from playing too much Monster Rancher, there's a kid with ADD who can focus without meds, or a kid who doctors claimed would always be brain damaged, or an adult who is finally able to function socially. Penny Arcade's Holkins and Krahulik might also argue that gaming makes one more generous, as their $600,000-plus take for Child's Play 2005 showed.
Whatever the issue, it's clear that the gaming good/bad debate is firmly mired in gray territory. We, as gamers, just need to find a way to make the good side heard as loudly as the bad. With doctors, psychiatrists, dentists, speech therapists and high school curriculum planners on our side, we might actually make some headway. Gaming is good for you.
Mur Lafferty is a freelance writer and podcast producer. She has dabbled in as much gaming as possible, from her website work at Red Storm Entertainment to her RPG writing for White Wolf Publishing. Currently she writes freelance for several gaming publications and produces three podcasts: Geek Fu Action Grip, I Should Be Writing and Pseudopod: the Horror Podcast Magazine. She lives in Durham, NC.