Do Video Games Imitate Real Life?

Posted on by Kevin.

While I personally feel that my ten-year, 14,000 hour gaming odyssey was a complete waste, I am not so naïve that I ignore the benefits of video games.  I write and have written extensively about the drawbacks and dangers of this 21st-century amusement, but I strive for a balanced perspective.

Let’s not forget that a glass of red wine a day correlates with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease.  Likewise, moderate use of video games can offer significant benefits.

The E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3) last week showed that video games are coming closer to approximating the activities that they simulate.  The motion control of many cutting-edge games allows players to point, jump, and move to control the characters in the game.  This increasingly-common feature of video games makes many of them aerobic.  Players can learn fitness techniques, how to play the guitar and even hone their martial arts skills.  These new games should help considerably in reversing the sedentary trend among America’s youth.

Even the much-maligned World of Warcraft can impart significant advantages.  At the Wharton Business School Leadership Conference in Philadelphia, conference speaker John Hegel touted the game’s potential.  Speaking of a young man he hired to be the CEO of his tech start-up, Hegel said, “He learned everything he needed to know while becoming a guild leader in the popular online game World of Warcraft.”  Hegel highlighted the necessity for leaders in the game to build powerful allies, and foster teamwork and cooperation.  Success in the game could very well portend success in the board room!

Many innovative teachers across the country have taken video games into the classroom.  Quest to learn, an innovative school in New York City, integrates video game design and play into the very fabric of its curriculum.  The school’s philosophy centers on “creating a world in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems and take on the identities of explorers.”  The school teaches in a way that empowers students into full participation in their learning by using media to which kids can easily relate.

Exercise that’s fun, team-building, and dynamic teaching methods are a powerful trio of benefits.  But before we get too carried away, let’s not forget that many of the World of Warcraft junkies in my recovery groups think the game rotted their brains.  Most gamers lead sedentary lives, with a recent study showing obesity rates up significantly in 28 states!  Many teenagers stay up late playing games and surfing the Internet to the point of sleep deprivation, making it unlikely they will function well in school.  These points drive home the need to indulge in the offerings of the cyber world with intention, in ways that enhance our opportunities for success instead of destroying them.  It is not the cyber world that is the problem, but rather how we relate to it.

Yes, technology is allowing video games to move closer to approximating reality, but for many people, video games are a less-than-satisfying substitute for the adventure, discovery and excitement they lack in their real lives.

  • Please leave a comment and weigh in on this debate.
  • Do you have any examples of how video game play might have benefited a loved one?


  1. My nephew spends a good deal of time playing video games, and it was becoming a problem. My sister, a single mother, was concerned about the problem and worked out a schedule with him to limit the amount of time he spent on his games. He has been living by the rules during the day and she is pleased that he is now also doing other things. I have noticed, however, that he is very tired lately and am beginning to wonder if he is playing video games at night while she is sleeping (and when he should be). Is this common occurrence? And do you think I should address it with her?

    Posted on by Terry
    • Terry, your concern is shared by millions around the country. The tiredness is something I would look into. Has your sister looked into a monitoring system to ensure that no games are played when she is sleeping? Children who excessively game are experts at circumventing parental controls. Lock boxes are available for the computer and game console, and sometimes hiding power cords in the trunk of the car can also be beneficial. Many parents use behavior modification plans to take advantage of the motivating potential of video games, linking play time with other, more desirable behaviors, like academic performance and physical exercise.
      You may want to address this to her, in answer to your question. Once sleep disturbance rears its ugly head, it is likely that a serious problem has taken root.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  2. While I agree that the upper levels of Guild management in World of Warcraft can impart benefits, I can’t help but think that the negatives outweigh it.

    About two and a half years ago, after spending 14 hours the previous day on a raid, I caught 4 hours of sleep and then got up to do it again. For another 10 hours. Afterward, I sat back, completely horrified. Had I really just spent nearly 24 solid hours playing a video game? You bet. And my guild mates expected that I would get up the next day and do it again. I didn’t touch the game after that.

    But I did have some interesting thoughts about Warcraft as a result. I adore the game, the entire universe that the genius people at Blizzard have created. You can immerse yourself in it completely. But that’s also the problem inherent in the game – once you get to a certain point, you HAVE to immerse yourself to keep advancing. It’s how the game is designed. I once read an article that claimed the average Warcraft player spent 40+ hours a week playing the game, more than you would a full-time job. The writer was clearly horrified, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

    Running a guild in the game can provide the benefits mentioned; decision making, arbitrating arguments, forging alliances etc. To be fair, i cannot help but admire the players who are capable of commanding 40+ people remotely in a PvP battleground such as Alterac Valley. But when the demands lead to the exclusion of real world interactions, which they often do, I think these benefits are severely mitigated, if not lost entirely.

    Posted on by Shara
    • Thank you Shara. You have given us a quite balanced perspective methinks. You are one of those conscious people who can walk the line between benefits and drawbacks. I particularly resonated with your capital letters to suggest the necessity of immersing oneself in the game in order to advance. Obviously, this feature is built into the hard-wiring of the game and, of course, is why the game carries so much addictive potential. Please come again to our little corner of cyberland. 🙂

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)

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