With the new Grand Theft Auto V coming out next week, it’ll only be a matter of time before the media uses this game as an example of the root cause of many of the ills and woes in our society. You know… like poor education, violence in schools, robbery, poor…the list goes on. The gaming community, to a certain extent, has been ostracized by the media as fat, depressed, socially inept and the like. (That’s the news media for you. Always bringing you the latest and most sensational news without giving you the whole picture.)
For now, let’s ignore all the woes the media has associated with video games, mostly because I’ve already covered the topic before. I’d like to show you all how the gaming community isn’t as bad as the media claims it is, and how gamers have also helped make the world a better place.
Games Help Maintain Friendships
Every once in a while, you’ll come across a moving story that you can relate to on a personal level. The following video is about Tim, a young man who made the difficult choice of moving far away from his best friends and girlfriend from highschool to take care of his father, and how one particular video game helped him stay close with them.
Much like Tim, though not as drastic, my friends and I split up some time after college, each of us off to pursue our careers. Sure we kept in touch and made time to meet up every so often, but during the times in between, I missed being able to go over to their homes just to hang out, whether it was playing video games, watching TV, or just going out for drinks.
Like Tim said in the video, you can only talk so much with each other before you run out of things to say. The moments you remember most are the shared experiences you have with your friends. And while video games aren’t the only medium with which I can share these experiences with my friends, it’s definitely one of the more convenient and fun ways I can accomplish this despite the distance between us.
There have been plenty of charities set up by gamers over the years, but the one that stands out the most in my mind is Child’s Play Charity. It was started back in 2003 by the creators of the webcomic series, Penny-Arcade, in response to all of the negative portrayal of gamers in the media. They challenged their readership to prove the media wrong by donating money to bring video games, video game consoles, board games, movies, and books to the Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, and all in time for Christmas.
Being sick is definitely not awesome, and being stuck in a hospital on Christmas, doubly so. I remember when I had chicken pox in the first grade, I was stuck at home and miserable at the fact that everyone I knew was playing outside. I wanted to scratch every inch of my body and was not allowed to. However, I was fortunate enough to own a Super Nintendo and it really helped me pass the time and take my mind off the fact that I was sick. Instead of constantly scratching my body, I was off in an adventure saving the Princess from Bowser or battling monsters to protect the Kingdom of Hyrule.
I think this is what the creators of Penny-Arcade had in mind. Many of us were fortunate enough to play video games when we were feeling sick or down, so why not share that experience with children who are really sick and stuck in hospitals. And it worked. While they don’t allow this anymore due to health concerns, many of Penny-Arcade’s readership initially donated their own video games, consoles, books, and movies, each of which held sentimental value. Each item seemed to say, “I hope this helps you get through your tough times, just as it helped me.”
What’s really cool is that Child’s Play gained momentum with each successive year. The organization added more hospitals throughout the United States, and has now gone international. Major gaming companies like Nintendo, THQ, Blizzard, and Bungie (to name a few), got involved, donated money and even developed new and cool ways to get other gamers to donate money. Just last year alone, Child’s Play generated $5 million in donations, 20 times what they received their first year.
Helping AIDS/HIV Researchers in Finding the Cure
This takes a bit of explaining. Gamers haven’t exactly developed the cure for HIV/AIDS. They have, however, helped researchers understand some of the mysteries of the HIV virus via a puzzle game known as “Foldit”. The purpose of this game is to design realistic protein molecules that follow a specific set of rules set out by the researcher. Within three weeks, gamers, most of whom did not have any sort of background in biochemistry, were able to figure out the structure of a key protein that played a critical role in the way HIV multiplied. This was a protein structure that had stumped researchers for a long time. According to this article at PC Magazine, unlocking the structure of this protein could assist scientists in developing drugs that would counteract the protein, thereby possibly stopping the disease from spreading. You could even say that video games have helped make sex a little safer for everyone, even if it isn’t gamers that are having it (Sorry everyone, couldn’t resist).
I just have to say… whoever thought to make a biochemistry puzzle game to solve medical and science problems was a genius. Who said gaming was useless?