ByCassie Benter, writer at
Breaker of Games, Mother of Bug Finding. Co-creator of AdventureJam. Twitter: @FenderBenter
Cassie Benter

Sometimes when I'm searching the depths of the Internet, be it on Facebook, YouTube, or other various forms of social media and discussion, I'll see that video games as a whole are dragged into a ruthless conversation unnecessarily. It isn't uncommon to see comments such as:

  • "Video games are a waste of time."
  • "Video games don't teach our youth anything."
  • "Video games don't belong on [insert website name here]."

Yet, I argue the opposite. You see, because I was only three, the PC adventures I played were simultaneously entertaining and educational; what many people call "edutainment" games. They were very common in the '90s and early '00s, and popular companies such as Knowledge Adventure, and The Learning Company, both specialized in edutainment games. They had titles like Reader Rabbit, which taught reading and spelling. Amazon Trail, although it played similarly to the popular series Oregon Trail, you would travel back in time to meet historical figures and learn about them. And finally, in the Jump Start series, each game was dedicated to a specific grade to help kids learn about things they would need at that age.

I am fully aware that some kids might not have had the chance to grow up with such games, and for this, I am lucky. But it occurred to me recently that kids my age didn't need the edutainment games. They helped, yes, but we did not rely on them completely.

I was talking to an older woman the other day when she discovered that I've played video games for a while. Sometimes when you tell a person from an older generation this, they don't know what to make of it, but she was very welcoming of the idea.

"I didn't know you played video games," she said. "My grandson plays video games. He learned how to read with them! We would play Mario together, and I'd teach him how to read the words on the screen. Every once in a while, I'd have to help him, but he caught on pretty quickly."

Suddenly, I remembered how I learned to spell at a young age because of this very reason. We had some old text command games lying around, and even though my vocabulary was short and I needed help sometimes, it was because of games like Laura Bow and the Colonel's Bequest, an adventure/murder mystery game, that I could spell words like "refrigerator," "armoire," and "elevator" when I was around 8-years-old.

It is for reasons like these that I argue against the comments that video games don't teach our youth anything, or that they're a waste of time. Although, games today certainly aren't what they used to be, thanks to the evolution of video games moving so quickly. No longer are edutainment games as common, and text based adventures are a thing of the past. But I reckon that there are still things that a younger generation can learn from and appreciate in modern games. If not on an educational level, then with important lessons and morals given through storytelling, which has been a bigger focus in games in recent years.

Video game's evolution never slows down

I remember when I was researching the origins of the game company Sierra Online and the couple behind it, Ken and Roberta Williams. There was an article talking about how they came to be, as well as how they published their first games. For those that don't know, Roberta found a text parser game called Colossal Cave Adventure and fell in love with it, but wanted to create a game where players could actually see their surroundings. And so, the husband and wife team created Mystery House in 1980, and it was the first adventure game to have graphics. Although it's terribly outdated by today's standards, it was ground breaking in its time.

Shortly thereafter, Ken sent his brother, John, a box full of Ziploc's containing a floppy disc and a blue sheet of paper describing Mystery House. Ken included a note in the box asking if John would spread the games around local software stores on the Californian coast to see if they would carry the game. This perhaps doesn't sound like a very smart publishing technique, but to their surprise, it quickly became a best seller and eventually sold over 10,000 copies at the price of $24.94.

Their second game, Wizard and the Princess, was released in the same year, and was the first adventure game to feature graphics in full color. Wizard and the Princess was a prelude of sorts to what many older adventure game fans might know as the King's Quest series, which started in 1983. With all of that happening in just three years, it's needless to say that Sierra grew very rapidly.

The opening screen of Mystery House
The opening screen of Mystery House

But even now, games continue to grow. Making and publishing a game isn't what it used to be. You no longer have to go store-to-store with Ziploc bags trying to sell your game. It has become so much easier thanks to things like digital distribution, crowd-funding websites, and social media. This does, of course, mean that sometimes we receive games we shouldn't; games that are more of a half finished thought than a full product. But it also opens the doors for people who might not have been as lucky as Ken and Roberta. Thanks to the independent video game developers out there, we've received some fantastic stories.

Ether One, for example, is one of my favorites, and it was created by only six people. In the game, you play a character that is called by the title, the "Restorer," who goes into a patient's mind that suffers from dementia. In the game, you collect fragments of this patient's memory, trying to piece it together bit by bit. What makes this game so meaningful is how it was constructed so beautifully. Even with two completely separate endings to the game, changing the game's meaning entirely, I have never been as affected by a story of any kind (games, movies, or books) quite like I was with both of the endings from Ether One.

I really can't explain much else about it without ruining the story that begs to be explored, but do know that because of its mechanics; because of it throwing you, the player, into the game to restore this person's memory, it wouldn't even be close to the same experience on the big screen or on paper. It needs to be played to be fully experienced. It is because of games with a heavy focus on storytelling, like this one, that I have an undying hope for games someday proving to the masses that they're are equals to books and film. They all have their rightful spot.

Ether One by White Paper Games
Ether One by White Paper Games

In closing, video games have proven so much to us in just the short amount of time that they've been around. They've shown us that there are more to games than just mindlessly shooting zombies, virtually skiing down slopes, or pretending to be a goat. They've taught us how to count, and read. They've told us beautiful and inspiring, thought-provoking and tear-jerking stories, just as well as movies or books have done.

Video games have proven that they deserve a spot on Moviepilot, and every other website that deals with multiple forms of entertainment, just as much as every other kind of media out there.


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