Commentary: Handheld self-improvement

Commentary: Handheld self-improvement

Class or Madden? Laundry or Grand Theft Auto? Socialization or Tetris? The hell with class – I’ll teach myself. Screw laundry – a little Febreze and it’s good as new. Socialization? I’m not big on small talk. I want to expand my mind.

That wasn’t a typo. I play video games to expand my mind. You’ve probably never heard that before. I bet you think they’re a waste of time. If so, do you watch TV? More specifically, do you watch MTV or VH1? That is a much bigger waste of time than playing video games.

Video games can improve your peripheral vision, hand-eye coordination, reflexes and critical thinking skills. As crazy as it sounds, video games can actually be good for you.

I’ll be the first to admit some parts of Madden are ridiculous. Take the Franchise Mode. It’s a feature giving gamers the ability to scout, draft, sign and trade players. You even get to set concession prices. Doing this can amount to hours without ever taking a snap. They’re wasted hours. Passing in the actual game is what’s beneficial.

Ever thrown on the highest difficulty level? It takes a lot of focus. First, you have to read the coverage. Are they in zone or man-to-man? Based on your reads, you might want to motion a player or tell someone to block. After the snap you have to watch the primary receiver and look out for blitzers. If the main option is covered, you have to quickly scan the field for another one. Oh yeah, you don’t want to get sacked or throw a pick.

Now compare this to driving down Huntington Avenue. There’s a lot to look out for. Is the taxi driver pulling over or moving forward? Does the pedestrian know you have a green light? Is she Swedish or Norwegian? With all of this going on, watching the road can be tough. As John Madden would say, it’s like “having a bumblebee in your helmet.” However, that bumblebee is less of a nuisance if you’ve tossed enough passes.

Both driving and playing Madden require keen peripheral vision. In Madden, you can’t just lock onto the primary receiver. While driving, you can’t just lock onto the white lines. Furthermore, both activities require swift reflexes and good hand-eye coordination. I think new drivers (and plenty of current ones) would be better if they played some Madden – or driving simulators, for that matter.

I don’t know about you, but math lectures rarely hold my attention. To learn how to solve problems, I don’t want to hear a teacher talk. I want to dive right in and try some. Moreover, I prefer real applications to justify my effort. This is where video games come into play.

Shooting the basketball in NBA 2K6 is a fundamental course in probability. First and foremost, you have to know who you’re shooting with. If he’s Shaq, you want to stay close to the basket. If it’s Paul Pierce, you can take any kind of shot. If it’s Brian Scalabrine, you want to pass immediately.

How close is the nearest defender? Is your team on a run? How tired is the shooter? Did you release at the apex of your jump? Mastering these elements will teach you probability in an interesting way. You’ll also win $5 if you happen to have a wager going with a friend.

More people would be interested in math if there was a reason to be interested. For example, imagine a high-level math class focused on baseball statistics. I guarantee the class would be popular and effective. It’s hard to sit there and learn formulas that have no meaning to you. However, applying it to baseball would make it relevant, at least in my eyes.

The examples I’ve presented are just the tip of the iceberg. Want to improve your rhythm? Bang on the bongos that come with Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. Want to enhance your abstract thinking? Try solving the puzzles in Prince of Persia. Want to prepare for a night with a Weekly Dig escort? Pick up her sister in Grand Theft Auto.

I have nothing against TV. I think it’s one of the best legal ways to clear your mind. Still, there’s a fine line between mind-clearing and mind-controlling. I think television has a tendency to fall into the latter category, particularly with the college student demographic.

With video games, you’re not subjected to five-minute blocks of commercials. You’re not forced to take in an endless array of advertising and product promotion. With video games, you control your fate, not some greedy network executive. You can play whenever you like and for as long you like. Above all, if you choose the right game, you might even learn something.

– Chris Sabanty can be reached at [email protected]

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