good and well

Who says gaming doesn’t do any good?

I’m asking seriously. Does anyone still claim that, besides ornery parents still living under pet rocks leftover from the ’80s? Well, some “studies” do. But at this point it’s like anti-vaxxers: a nearly-immeaurable minority still claims they are purely harmful, while virtually any study done in the past decade finds the exact opposite. Sure, there are some that use methods such as candy consumption and questionnaire honesty as metrics, but that doesn’t seem particularly scientific, does it?

On the other hand, games do all sorts of things for the brain. Super Monkey Ball can increase skill in laproscopic surgery. The Typing of the Dead, a survival-horror game combined with a typing exam, predictably improves typing skills of the players while also providing serious challenge. Surprisingly, Rayman Raving Rabbits can improve symptoms of dyslexia in youngsters. Puzzle games like Tetris and Echochrome are effective teachers of spatial skills and inventive solutions. Video games engage the brain like nothing else, proving interactivity is key to cognitive development.

But there is so much more than that. Games provide a sandbox for the mind to play in, testing and pushing boundaries. From virtual computer processors to recursive simulations of itself, almost anything is possible in Minecraft, even graphing calculators, not to mention its use as an architecture design tool. PolyBridge is like a modern version of K’nex, and the structural creations are just about as ridiculous and amazing. Kerbal Space Program has become a teaching tool in physics classes, to the point that the dev team themselves released a version specifically for teachers.

And people spend immense effort and time learning to play these games as fast as possible. Sometimes it’s a matter of skill, sometimes it comes down to whether the game cooperates. Almost always there is a strong element of exploiting quirks of the game.

Most importantly, these speedruns do a lot of good. Millions of dollars’ worth, not to put too fine a point on it.

A little perspective.

A few days ago, Summer Games Done Quick 2015 concluded to awesome fanfare. The marathon got around half a million dollars in donations in the last 24 hours, completely eclipsing all expectations anyone might have had regarding their success. For comparison, the previous year’s SGDQ pulled in about $700k. This year, it was $1.2 million. The only word I could think of as I watched the donation tracker tick up and up was “staggering.” Since the first GDQ marathon back in 2011, the organization has brought in more than $5.5 million in donations, all given to various charities over the years. It’s an incredible way to show how much generosity the gaming community is capable of.

But it’s far from the only way. Countless gaming-related charity programs exist–be it bringing games to children in hospitals, impromptu 24-hour donation livestreams, driving a bus across a featureless desert for hours, memorializing a family member tragically stricken, or making games available for the disabled to enjoy. There can be no doubt that games enlighten and enliven, no matter your taste, budget or even cognitive or physical ability.

Some people, though, remain stalwart.