Playing Video Games Makes Us Fully Human


Image credit: NAUTILUS
No other media meets our emotional and social needs like electronic games.

By Brian Gallagher | NAUTILUS

I have an agonizing decision to make. Should I save a governing body that has never done a thing for me? It doesn’t even contain a single person from my race. The aliens of the galactic Council decided long ago that my people should not be trusted, that we were aggressive, entitled, and short-sighted. I’m a soldier engaged in a fight to save the entire galaxy. And now the Council wants my help to destroy their assailants? My companion Ashley is against it. “You can’t sacrifice human lives to save the Council!” she yells. “What have they ever done for us?” Another companion, Garrus, rebuffs Ashley. “This is bigger than humanity!” Schadenfreude tempts me to let the patronizing Council be pulverized; a pro-human one could replace it if we survive. But I don’t want to give cynical aliens an opportunity to attribute the lowest-possible motive to humans. I want to refute the impression that we are an arrogant, upstart species out for itself. I command humanity’s space armada to target the forces gunning for the Council, no matter the cost. I feel a rush of bravery and idealism. I love playing Mass Effect.

I’m not alone. The popularity of video games is staggering. Last year, the top 25 public game companies—China’s Tencent, Sony, and Microsoft ranking highest—had annual earnings of more than $100 billion for the first time.1 The United States video game industry earned more than global box office movie ticket sales, U.S. video streaming subscriptions, and the U.S. music industry.2 By 2021, according to Statista, a market research firm, 2.7 billion people will be playing video games, up from 1.8 billion five years ago. A Pew survey reveals the age group that plays most often is 18 to 29.3 In the 30 to 49 age group, nearly 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women play. A study in Europe shows people 45 and up are more likely to play video games than children aged 6 to 14.

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking video games are like potent drugs, offering escapist fantasies that deprive teenagers of sleep and food until they are strung out and incapable of functioning in the real world. There have certainly been enough horror stories in the psychological literature over the years to raise concern that video games are eating the brains of the world’s youth. But this negative portrait is outdated.

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