I grew up at a time when the closest thing we had to a video game was adjusting the “vertical hold” on our black-and-white TV. You’d turn on the tube and the picture would come in perfectly clear, except that it would slowly scroll (we didn’t call it that then) upward until someone opened the little door between the on-off knob and the channel-changer and turned the appropriate knob that brought the picture to a halt on the screen.
Much later, I discovered something called Pong — a primitive kind of video tennis game, in which players volleyed a little round ball back and forth on a tabletop screen. I seem to recall achieving a certain level of aptitude with this game, which is not saying much. And that was basically the end of my experience with video games. When my son was old enough to start obsessing over his X-Box or PlayStation, he would occasionally invite me to try my hand at whatever was the hot new game, but I was completely inept. Couldn’t ever remember which of the buttons and toggles did what, and found myself easy prey for whatever it was I was supposed to be fighting.
This, of course, gave my son great joy, but it never really bothered me. I didn’t see how mastering Halo or Call to Duty would make me a better person. But now I see that I was wrong. A new study from North Carolina State University suggests that folks my age who play video games every so often experience “higher levels of emotional well-being” than those who avoid them. And it’s not only that these geezer gamers are happier, but the research also indicates that folks who avoid playing actually have “a tendency toward higher levels of depression.”
You know what’s really depressing? Watching your son casually dismantle the video-game version of your basketball team while you’re frantically trying to learn the difference between “jumping” and “dribbling” on your console. That’s not fun, especially when you know you can still beat him in a round of “HORSE”.
I’m guessing that these happy outcomes have something to do with the process of learning a new skill and, probably more to the point, the joy that comes with friendly competition. Now, depending on your age and your infirmities, I don’t doubt that a rousing game of tennis or golf on your Wii would raise your spirits (once you figured out which buttons to push), but I’d much prefer to challenge myself with the real thing.
So you can have your NBA 2K13. Monday night, I’ll be back out on the basketball court, doing my best to keep up with the acrobatic youngsters and vertically challenged boomers who help to make reality so much more engaging than anything I could experience on a screen.