Often the idea of playing games is labelled a childish endeavour, or something associated with middle aged men still living with their parents. Yet in line with our theme of mindfulness this month, the importance of games is something I could not have passed over so easily.
Benjamin Franklin wrote an article in 1750 called ‘The Morals of Chess’, in which he outlines three core skills that the game fosters and encourages in its players. These are:
“Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action.
Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: the relation of several pieces and their situations.
Caution, not to make our moves too hastily.”
Such attributes are seen by many as vital for dealing with numerous scenarios and challenges presented by everyday life. Stanley Kubrick was well-known on his film sets for being an avid chess player – before becoming a world famous director he hustled chess tournaments in New York’s central park and lived on his meagre winnings. He would later claim that it was the skills he inherited from the game that gave him his hard-working, perfectionist attitude, and this was plain to see for audiences that enjoyed the wonderful vision his films portrayed.
A famous episode from season three of The West Wing actually uses two chess games played by the U.S. president to underscore the simultaneous real life game of strategy involved in resolving a crisis between China and Taiwan.
Later on in the same series (season six), we find out that the President’s cabinet see it as important that he plays chess once a week as a way of evaluating his mental faculties, to determine whether his condition Multiple sclerosis is worsening. It was known that the President was a highly proficient player; therefore any decrease in performance could be a warning sign. Conversely, maintaining this habit would in turn prolong those same mental faculties and his ability to function normally.
It was once thought that word games such as crossword puzzles could help simply ‘make you smarter’, but I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s likely that if you intentionally sit down to do a crossword puzzle only with the thought of getting smarter in mind, without properly engaging in the actual task at hand, you will not achieve what you want from it. Nor would you understand what people really mean when they say this, in much the same way that a politician who sits down to play Call of Duty in order to judge all video games by the violent presupposition he already has in mind, will not understand what it is that the rest of the industry finds so great about gaming.
Without a doubt word games stimulate the brain and may help in aiding a person’s memory – there is enough research on the topic to speak for itself. Recently number games such as Sudoku have also experienced a major resurgence in sophisticated circles, and their effect on our mental performance is considered largely similar.
These games provide a form of exercise for our brains similar to what running can do for the rest of our body. They can therefore ward off degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, which come about partly due to a lack of this exercise as we get older.
All well and good, you may say, but these respectable gaming categories do not cover the kind that would have crossed our collective minds when I mentioned the idea of them in my introduction. Do I think video games, played by the tech-savvy but socially declining next generation, can have the same effect?
The answer is an emphatic yes... in some cases. You see, the video game industry is not so confined by such labels – to say all video games are good for your mind would be akin to saying all films belong to the comedy genre. The Silent Hill series (before it became American) is a good example of games that could greatly benefit your mental capacities while you played by introducing puzzle elements, sub-plots that made you fill in gaps for yourself, pop culture references, and subtext in the gameplay that only those paying close attention would catch.
However, to cover video games appropriately would take much more time, and I’ve already taken enough of yours for today. In conclusion I’d urge you to play a game that you find mildly challenging, and try maintaining the habit weekly. You may find it has positive effects on your ability to be mindful in other areas of your life.