Getting it Done

speakerHumans have many needs. There are the basic needs, like food, water, air. And then there are the more complex ones, the ones that aren’t exactly needed to stay alive, but seem to be definitely needed to stay healthy, especially mentally healthy.

I’m sure you can list some of these. We need companionship. We need dreams. We need hope.

But we also need to know we are accomplishing something, We need to know that we matter. We need to know our lives make sense, and part of that is knowing that we have an impact on our universe — that things are happening because we made them happen.

And this is another interesting way in which virtual reality is affecting us. I wake up every day needing to know that i am accomplishing something, The interesting thing about this is that as far as my brain is concerned, what it sees and hears is real — even if what it sees and hears is being synthesized by a software environment.  The brain trusts its sources (i.e., the senses) and so when we see a person smile in a movie it is the same thins as seeing a person standing in front of us smiling, as far as the brain is concerned.

The same principle applies to other virtual things, like accomplishment. Solving a problem is an accomplishment, whether the problem involves real-world objects and situations, or whether it only exists in a video game. Think about that. When you defeat a monster, build a habitat, or complete a quest in a virtual-reality game such as World of Warcraft, you are using far more than your mouse and your keyboard. You are using your mind. You are using the parts of your brain that model the real world and plan ways to interact with it in order to accomplish things in it — to reduce danger, to acquire resources, to construct artifacts, and so on.

This could be both a good thing and a bad thing. People who dislike video games could point out that game players are only accomplishing imaginary things. They are substituting virtual work for real work. When they log out of the game, theses things they have accomplished make no difference in the lives of others. So you mined a thousand pieces of imaginary ore. You forged a hundred swords. you slew dozens of dangerous beasts. Great. But what did any of it do to help your fellow human beings in the real world?

This is a valid question, of course. But while i won;t try to say people should interact with others in the real world, let’s not bee too hasty to condemn them for enjoying virtual accomplishments. Instead, let’s look a the potential benefits of gaming.

First, gaming provides an outlet for aggression without harming real-world people. Parents might moan that violent games are encouraging violent real-world behavior, but the evidence for this seems pretty thin. If you feel the urge to kill something, isn’t it better that you kill something imaginary?

Second, gaming provides stimulation for the brain that the brain needs. There is plenty of evidence that keeping elderly brains active helps prevent the kind of degeneration that leads to senility. Solving problems, especially new problems (such as learning a new language — or playing an unfamiliar game) forces the brain to work harder instead of vegetating. Use it or lose it, remember? Games help you keep using it.

Third, games can inspire. Maybe you don’t believe that. Parents see their offspring sitting glued to a TV set and wish the kids would be outside playing with other kids. But kids playing video games can play with others without leaving the safety of the home. Think about that. Would you rather have your kids playing in the street…or playing wit other kids in an  imaginary world where the worst that can happen to them is their computer crashes?

There are many ways to get things done. Some are imaginary, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

— MRK

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