“Video games will rot your brain!” I’ve heard that statement more than a few times over my life. It is complete and utter garbage, though. There are some major benefits to playing video games. I certainly received those benefits growing up playing games, and I know my kids will also learn as they grow and play. The big push right now is for STEM — and, believe it or not, video games encompass all of the facets of STEM.
The Science of Video Games
Playing video games introduces kids to the scientific method. Let’s take a game such as Super Mario Bros. and go through the method.
First, I need to state the problem — I need to get this little jumping man through several obstacles to save the princess.
Second, you research the problem — using game guides and magazines to get tips on how to play the game.
Third, you experiment — what happens when I jump at this moment? How do I earn higher points?
By playing the video game and mastering it, I used the scientific method over and over. The game was like an experiment because you could count on things working the same way each time. I tested and retested. If experiments went wrong, I had to start over and try again until I got things right. The variables were how you performed certain actions.
The Technology of Video Games
Video games have increased in complexity at a steady rate. The simple games of my childhood are now able to be downloaded and played on incredible machines of technological wonder. These same machines can also play some of the most advanced games ever made. Some machines like the Playstation 3 were even used to create relatively inexpensive supercomputers. The computing power within these machines when linked together is incredible. They have been used for several scientific purposes like studying black holes and processing radar image surveillance.
The Engineering of Video Games
Our gaming lives these past few weeks has been consumed by virtual reality. The technology is changing all the time. Nintendo has created a brand new Nintendo Labo Kit that is all about VR. They sent my family a review kit, and we have been having a lot of fun pretending to be elephants and deep sea photographers among other things. (You can see my YouTube video review here.)
There are some wonderful benefits to the Nintendo Labo kits. We have three out of the four of them now, courtesy of Nintendo. These kits are perfect for STEM projects. Each kit has several engineering projects. There are special cardboard pieces that you use to create devices called Toy-Cons that work with the Nintendo Switch’s two Joy-Cons and screen.
We have built the Nintendo Labo virtual reality goggles and also contraptions that attach to the goggles in order to pay various games. One attachment is meant to work like a camera and it does a great job of it. You attach one Joy-Con into the “lens” portion of the camera and another that acts as the shutter button. You can also deep dive into what makes this camera Toy-Con work. I learned that while you can rotate the lens to zoom the camera in and out it does not zoom in and out if you simply tilt the camera on its side. The gyroscope of the Joy-Con knows where it is relative to the screen and the second Joy-Con so that it only zooms when you rotate the lens part of the Toy-Con directly.
There are so many mini-games that you can play and Toy-Cons that you can make with Nintendo Labo. Each one is a STEM experiment in itself. In addition to all of that, you also have the ability to create your own Toy-Cons using the Nintendo Labo coding language. There is a large community of people who have created their own creations using this software and the Nintendo Switch. There was even a program between Nintendo and the Institute of Play to provide Nintendo Labo kits and Nintendo Switches to schools to teach a STEM curriculum using those devices and kits.
The Mathematics of Video Games
Math factors into all aspects of gaming. When I think of math in video games, my mind goes to Tetris. It is a simple game to play, but it has been proven to increase grey matter in the brain and increased spatial awareness.
Personally, I’ve played so much Tetris in my life that I can maximize the most efficient way to pack a box so that everything fits. I used to own a van and was able to pack my entire apartment into that van to make one trip to move from place to place. I’m not saying that Tetris gave me that skill, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that it did!