One only has to cast a glance over the mainstream media to find articles proclaiming video games to be the work of the devil, to have incited violence in young children or to have turned them into ruthless killing machines, possibly sent back in time to stop the leader of the human resistance. Jack Thompson, a US attorney and activist, famously fought for years to connect just about every violent massacre to video games, calling them “murder simulators” that taught kids to “kill efficiently and to love it”.
But surely, amongst all the negativity, there are some instances of good? Times when video games came to the rescue, saving the day rather than damning it? Turns out, there is – and here’s a couple of examples.
In early April of this year, nineteen year old Jay Georgiou broke into the home of three men and proceeded to tie them up. Demanding drugs and money (and waving a handgun about), he appeared to show little interest in the Xbox 360 in the corner of the room.
This was to be the downfall of poor Georgiou, who failed to realise that before he had broken in, the three men had been playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 online with their friend. And yes, the voice chat was still running.
Listening in, the friend quickly realised what was happening and contacted the police. Two hours later, the oblivious Georgiou was found and arrested, and is now serving eight years in prison.
But beyond simple crime fighting, video games have also helped save lives.
Paxton Galvanek isn’t a qualified doctor. He’s never been to medical school, nor had any form of medical training. What he does have, however – aside from a name that strikes fear in the hearts of Autobots everywhere – is a level-two medic in the video game America’s Army.
The game, part-funded by the American government and used by their army as a training tool, features an incredibly robust boot camp that all players must go through before being able to play online. This training ranges from special forces to medics – with the latter being so robust, it’s essentially an online EMT course.
The above would come in extremely handy for Galvanek when the SUV he was driving behind one night flipped over and crashed. Rushing over to the downed vehicle, he discovered the driver had lost a bunch of fingers and was bleeding heavily. Using the knowledge he’d learned in America’s Army, Galvanek dressed the wound and kept the man’s hand positioned correctly to lessen further blood loss until the paramedics arrived. Not a bad day’s work for a man who never went to medical school. Reports he then transformed into a truck and rolled out are greatly exaggerated.
Beyond the two examples above are the numerous games and programs that task people with solving rudimentary problems in order to work together as a whole to help crunch scientific data. Planet Hunters, for instance, tasks gamers with reporting dips in the lights of stars – a phenomena that can be caused by a planet passing in front of it. Once reported, scientists at Yale and Oxford Universities check it out in further detail. Just one month after the game launched, two new planets were discovered.
Games have even helped with research into diseases such as cancer and AIDS. FoldIt is a puzzle-game created by the University of Washington where players must take a protein structure and attempt to turn it into a three-dimensional structure – a process known as ‘folding’. A simple scoring system tells people how well they’ve done, and a global leaderboard tracks everyone’s progress.
When the game first launched, players were asked to fold a protein known as M-PMV, the solution of which had eluded scientists for nearly fifteen years. After 240,000 people competed for the top score, the solution was found in just ten days.
So. Next time someone starts shouting about the corrupting influences of video games on today’s youth, feel free to point out the various ways that they’ve helped stop crime, save lives and aid scientific breakthroughs. And as for Jack Thompson, the attorney-activist who fought for years to prove links between violence and gaming? He was disbarred in 2008 by the Supreme Court of Florida – for making false statements.