President Donald Trump is today bringing together the higher-ups of a few video game companies with anti-video game activists to have a confab about violence in games.
Specifically, he’s invited Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Rockstar, Robert Altman, CEO of Zenimax, and Mike Gallagher of the Entertainment Software Association as representatives from the games industry.
According to NPR, Trump said “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.” Apparently the purpose of this meeting is to determine whether or not games are having a negative effect, though you’ll notice he didn’t include any actual psychologists or neurologists to offer any evidence from either perspective.
So instead, let’s ask: what are games actually teaching kids? I think, if he or anyone else were to actually play the games made by Trump’s guests, they might be surprised. And if the conference today is going to focus on potential negative aspects of games, I’d like to counterbalance it by pointing out positive things kids can learn.
The Elder Scrolls: You can reach the top even if you start at the bottom.
Starting a game with nothing isn’t unique to the Elder Scrolls series, which is made by Zenimax-owned Bethesda Studios. It’s de rigueur for every sim game on the planet. But in Elder Scrolls, it’s not about starting with a zero sum. It’s about starting in a place society deems to be the lowest.
In all of the games, with the exception of the second, your character starts off in prison. In Skyrim, the latest main series entry, you start your journey with your head literally on an executioner’s block. 60 hours later, and you’re the greatest hero in the land, respected and loved (or feared, depending on your playthrough).
The lesson? Hard work and dedication can take you miles beyond where you started.
Grand Theft Auto: Friends and family are worth more than money.
Admittedly it’s not as easy to find positivity in a game series like Rockstar’s GTA as it is in the other games here. Especially since often the street criminal protagonist’s redeeming characteristic is that they’re not as bad as the corrupt corporate/institutional criminals who frequently play a role in keeping them down.
But even in Vice City and Los Santos, there are nuggets of light and wholesomeness. In each of the games, the protagonists are grounded by the people around them: family members, friends, and people they’d rather not see hurt. Even the worst of the heroes (see: Trevor) can find meaning in something other than cash, drugs, and wholesale slaughter …usually camaraderie.
Also, maybe it’s just me, but telling kids that the very rich and powerful of the world might not have their best interests at heart is valuable in and of itself, but I can see why that might not be palatable to someone like Donald Trump.
Fallout: Not even the apocalypse can keep you down unless you let it.
Again, this will sound like much the same lesson as the Elder Scrolls example above, but the difference is significant. Beginning a game in a prison then rising up is an example of overcoming your own flaws. Beginning a game in the Fallout universe then rising up is overcoming an oppressive environment.
In Fallout, the world is the most hostile, unpleasant one you can imagine. The flora and fauna want to eat you, your fellow humans want to shoot you (and then eat you), and civilization itself is reduced to panicky herd instinct. So what can you do in the face of that? Change the entire course of history, which you do several times over the course of the series.
No matter which road you take, your character doesn’t let the things they can’t change stop them, but rises above them to make the life they want instead. Is that a saccharine read on the series? Maybe, but I’d argue it’s still the main takeaway.
These are just a few of the good things video games can teach kids, and I’ve confined myself to popular games made by Trump’s guests.
Games contain violence — that’s undeniable. But if you’re going to sit around and argue about whether that violence sends a bad message, it’s also worthwhile to consider the positive messages. And, as odd as sounds, the violent games can still teach you good things, if you actually bother to judge them by more than their box art.
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