Friday, June 05, 2009

11 year old says Video games a waste of time... um. He's wrong.

Story is carried by the NBC-LA here:

The jist of the story is that an 11 year old boy is graduating from an LA college, has some experience with martial arts, and says Video Games are a waste of time.

Okay, for the most part, he probably does have half a point. Back in 2008 I went over that just playing MMO's didn't automatically grant leadership skills. For the most part, Video Games are just for having fun, a way to sit back and relax.

That being said, Video Games aren't just a way to waste time. Lets skip the educational games for a minute and talk real-world applications. Steven Spielberg, the legendary film director and producer, made headlines when he used Epic's Unreal Engine to make the sets for A.I. Today, it's common practice for not only movie studios, but television studios, to build sets in game engines first to make sure that positioning and lighting is accurate before actually building sets. Ever heard the old saying, Measure Twice, Cut Once? It's the same effect. Instead of having to build a set, find out it doesn't work as expected, visual entertainment production teams can save time and money, real money, by doing the work first on a digital gaming platform.

Video games haven't just made an impact on production of visual entertainment outside of Video Games. They've also had an impact on construction and architecture. Lets say you are building a house, and you hire a qualified architect. Chances are, he'll probably use some Computer Aided Design program to check out how your house is going to be built long before he ever hands over the first set of blueprints. So, question. What has driven the development of C.A.D. programs over the past 10 years? If you answered Video Games, you'd be right. As developers have struggled to produce buildings that are more realistic and believable, they have for the most part built the tools needed to do so. Okay, if you want to get technical, Industrial Light and Magic has been capable of producing spectacular special effects, both digitally and with props, since the 1970's. However, most of the Hollywood companies that went digital use huge rendering farms backed by some form of Unix, and now Linux. However, if you stop and take a look at say, Valve's Left For Dead, you'll find an incredibly realistic farmhouse... that probably only took hours to build versus days that a movie production studio would normally take.

So, Video Gaming drove the development of faster tools, that ran on commodity hardware, and commodity Operating Systems. The gaming aspect isn't lost on other aspects of construction, such as road design. Game developers have pushed the development of tools and resources to design racing games that feature realistic surface reaction, realistic car reaction, and realistic lighting. You'd be hard-pressed to find a road construction company that hasn't used a game engine to model and try out their new roads ahead of time now.

The US military also has real world uses for video games. While America's Army has a long ways to go before it can match the full world battle simulation of Planetside, its small scale, close quarters offerings are some of the most realistic in the world. In the latest versions used by the US Army itself in training, it's replaced monsterous mainframe systems with cheap commodity hardware... and it's actually proven in battle. There are cases on the record books where field medics, and even civilins, have preformed medical procedures they only experienced before in the America's Army Video Game. Waste of time? Not according to according to the guys responsible for putting warheads on the forheads either.

AFBlues covered this topic in a very effective manner recently, in this comic : A UAV, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle had crashed. Nobody was hurt, injured, killed, or whatever. Now... just where do you think the implementation for UAV's came from? If you said Video Games, you got it right. Most of the major improvements in remote control and video control have come from video games. To many UAV pilots, sitting down at their console and flying their craft is exactly identical to sitting down at a computer monitor and loading up a really good flight simulator.

The examples of real life implementations of video games go on. Space Shuttle Launches? Take a good look at the inside of NASA's space centers when they put a shuttle launch on TV. Air-Defense and Missile Command Systems? Good luck determining whether or not a Patriot Missiles Control deck is a game. It isn't of course, but if you wanted to, you could use it to simulate an entire missile attack and counter-attack. The implementation of video games in real life is not just limited to Military applications either. City bomb squads depend on robots and controls that were developed as off-shoots of... you guessed it... video games.

The idea of using games for combat training has been around for years, it was one of the major plot points to Orson Scott Card's book, Ender's Game. In that book, children were told they were playing games... instead they were training for, and then actually implementing real battle strategies and controlling epic fights light years away. Monica Hughes used the same sort of plot point in her book, Invitation To the Game. The plot point there consisted of a group of grade school graduates being introduced to an alien world... through a video game. Then there was Star Trek and the Holo Deck. In fiction, the ideas have been there for decades. Now, those ideas are here... in reality.

Okay, as I explained back in 2008, just playing a game doesn't automatically grant you certain skills. However, certain games can teach you certain skills. Playing a Flight Simulator won't automatically teach you how to pilot a Cesna. However, you can use a Flight Simulator to improve your skills and how you interact with the equipment. You can train your eyes to detect certain positions of the aircraft. Most flight schools put pilots through hours in simulators before sending them up in a real craft. Waste of time? I've yet to meet one pilot who thought a Flight Simulator was a waste of time.

Now, I realize that I am dancing around the issue of how an 11-year old managed to get a degree in LA's University System. That is a can of worms on it's on. From that single comment on video games though? I seriously question how good LA's school system is if it could turn out somebody that can't even see basic benefits that video gaming has brought over the past years.

Then again, it is LA. I've been there. I can't really say I'm surprised.
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