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Baas: Video games can provide creative outlet, don’t solely promote violence

Jared Baas, Columnist

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Stepping out into the brilliant sunlight of the late afternoon, I shield my face to give my eyes a moment to adjust to the surroundings. The lack of vision is attributed to the last couple of hours I had to spend in the hospital. As I turn onto the street, I run over to the nearest car, made to resemble a Ford Mustang. Finding the door locked, I elbow the window to break the glass, jump in the car, quickly hotwire it and drive off. When I look in the rearview mirror, I see an unfortunate local cop has seen my misdeed. I shoot out the front tires of the vehicle behind me while speeding away and pull into the nearest dark alley.

These are the streets of Los Santos, a fictional city created by Rockstar Games in their headline video game Grand Theft Auto V. The above scene would likely horrify most parents — as would GTA V all together, with its frequent scenes of theft, sex, drugs, crime, interference with law enforcement and objectification of women. And yes, the game has a Mature 17+ rating for a reason.

For me, however, games like these don’t work to teach me to behave like this, but rather provide an outlet to express my emotions and creativity.

One of the most unique features about GTA V is that it’s an open world game, meaning that instead of having a linear gameplay direction with a fixed sequence of events, the gamer can go wherever they choose and interact with the environment freely. This limitless exploration can foster creative thinking and enhance visual spatial learning.

My therapy in playing games like GTA comes from being able to try new things that I haven’t done in real life, like blowing up a car or jumping a motorcycle off of a parking garage. By testing these processes in a virtual world, I no longer wonder about them.

What many don’t seem to understand, however, is that the video game doesn’t inspire me to go try the things that I experimented with in real life. In fact, it does quite the opposite. After experiencing a new phenomenon in the game, it satisfies any curiosity I had about it in the first place. I don’t see a need to go out into my neighborhood and blow up a car — in GTA V, I can just simulate it in the gaming environment.

Video games are also a way for me to express my emotions in a positive manner. I find that often times when I’m angry or sad, I go to the video game world to work out what I’m dealing with. I can channel my anger into the game, and many times, my gameplay can improve when I have a reason like this to be playing.

While many critics might argue that’s not a productive way to deal with your emotions, I disagree. I think that being able to go into a simulated setting and release frustration is a much healthier way to deal with anger than resorting to other means like physical violence or stifling the emotions. Ultimately, it’s been much better to express my emotions freely and work them into a harmless video game than suffer side effects like anxiety or depression from improperly dealing with feelings.

It’s important for those against video games to understand this perspective. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that because I play a game with violence, I openly support crime. Rather, to me, video games can play an important role in providing young adults an alternative to many of the harmful activities they might participate in during their regular lives. In my opinion, by creating a safe space for young people to experiment, video games may help some people to reduce the risk of one hurting themselves or others — and few studies have looked into the long-term impact of these games on aggressive behavior.

While I recognize the negative effects of excessive gaming — like addiction and other detrimental health consequences — video games do have potential benefits, including improved reflexes and reaction times as well as strengthened creative problem solving skills. I think it’s time for us to expand our perspectives on the debate and think critically about how video games can actually benefit people in the same situation as me.

Jared Baas is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at jaredbaas2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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