After making a comment on a fellow GIDBlog site, I realized that it would make a good topic of discussion. The original comment I made was that, by playing Gran Turismo, I’ve learned quite a bit about cars that I didn’t know before. Obviously, it’s a game so a lot of real life aspects can’t be duplicated exactly, but much of the premise of the simulation is still applicable.
For example, I never realized how much tires affect the car. It makes sense though. The tires are the only part of a vehicle that actually interact with the environment, in this case the ground. Having poor quality tires means your are more likely to lose that precious ground contact. Once you lose good contact, you no longer have control of the vehicle. This means not just when your tires actually leave the ground (like when you go over a cliff) but when you lose any type of traction. If you brake too hard without anti-lock brakes, your wheels will lock up and you lose control. If you go over a “washboard” road or hit a speed bump too fast, your tires will momentarily lose contact with the ground and you just can’t drive on air very well.
Gran Turismo not only states this explicitly in the game but you can tell the difference in the quality of tires when driving. The cheap, standard tires simply don’t provide as much traction on turns or when braking. Taking this into the real world, cheap tires (generally speaking) won’t provide you with the same traction and safety as more expensive tires.
From personal experience, cheaper tires can also be “less round” than other tires. I bought a set from a “discount tire store” and noticed the car vibrated more and always seemed to be running over bumps. When I bought new tires (from a reputable company), they told me the old tires were “out of round” and so there were very slight bulges and flat spots that caused the rough ride.
Gran Turismo has also provided me with information on how the different components of cars work and how certain upgrades change performance. Again, they don’t correspond directly to real life but they give a good basis for knowing how things work if I ever wanted to “pimp my ride”. Personally, I think it’s a waste of money unless you take your car racing so I will never do it, but it’s interesting from a strictly educational aspect.
Video games can be learning tools in other ways. Back when the original Doom was big, the US Marine Corps came out with a multi-player map to help teach Marines small-unit tactics. Unfortunately, this idea has been corrupted by the anti-gun lobby and is trotted out whenever there’s a school or office shooting, typically restated as, “The killers used video games to learn how to kill and hunt people. The games turned them into killers.”
However, there has been no evidence of this (as far as I know). Typically the killers had mental problems and something set them off; the games were incidental. There is simply no way playing a video game can teach you how to use a gun effectively. Firing a real gun is just a little bit different than handling a game controller. About the most they can do is teach you to think about tactics, but there really are no tactics when it comes to taking out a school. As a final observation, how many school and office shootings are there compared to how many people play these games? It’s pretty insignificant so the correlation isn’t there.
Video games can teach other things though. My kids play Age of Empires and similar games, which can teach about resource management, diversification, cooperation, sharing, planning ahead, and even improve abstract reasoning and spatial geometry. These games are marketed as entertainment but, perhaps inadvertently, provide some skill building in areas that aren’t (or can’t be) actively taught.
Video games often get a bad rap for being mindless entertainment but that’s usually because “adults” don’t play them. However, I think this mindset will change over time as my generation gets older and has more influence on society.
We grew up with video games. Pong came out only 40 years ago and arcades had their heyday in the ’70s and ’80s, so only now is my generation settling down and thinking about the future. Quite often, we still play video games with our children, which not only increases family bonding but instills another generation with a different outlook towards games.
Video games may not have socially redeeming values currently, but that’s just an aspect of current society. There’s already a debate as to whether video games can be considered “art”. Eventually it will be a moot point, as the people making these decisions will have grown up with video games. Many of the debates about video games will simply fade away as they become just another aspect of life, like the telephone or television.