Video games can sometimes get a bad rap as mind-rotting, time-sucking activities. Taken to extremes, I admit they can be, but like any other hobby, they can be enjoyed in a way that relieves stress and enriches your life. In fact, if you love video/computer games, you can develop technical, academic, and social skills worthy of a personal statement -- all without it feeling like work.
A short project you can try is writing a guide for a game you know well. You don’t have to be a world-class player to teach. Your guide can be geared towards beginners and might even be the start of you becoming a prominent member of that game’s community. Although you’ll probably be posting it on a forum, your blog, or Reddit, if you hold yourself to the same editorial standards of a gaming magazine or website, this can help you improve your writing. You’ll already be brimming with ideas, which takes away one of the major reasons why people don’t write more often. However, it’ll still take skill to find your voice, organize those ideas, proofread for clarity and grammar, and, of course, hold your reader’s attention. This writing practice doesn’t even have to be a guide: I read about how someone made backstories for all of her villagers in Animal Crossing!
If you’re thinking of the game on a deeper level by writing a strategy guide, you might also want to start analyzing the elements of the game or tracking your stats in Excel or a similar program. The ability to work with data is a highly coveted skill in the workforce, so why not build that up with data that is interesting to you? You might find yourself getting better even though you are now spending less time playing. That’s called working smarter, not harder. It’s critically analyzing your game instead of doing the same thing over and over again.
Of course, all of this is only possible with games of sufficient complexity. In general, stay away from grindy games where performance is only a function of how much time (or worse, money) you sink into it. I mean, sometimes it is nice to have a little mindless game to play while you’re in the waiting room of the dentist, but I wouldn’t make it one of my main games. Instead, go for games that encourage creativity and/or strategy. A game that engages your brain will actually make it tired after a while; it’s the mindless addictive games that you can play all day that threaten to take up your time with nothing to show for it.
There are some games such as difficult platformers that demand perfection through practice. These can be grindy in their own way, but they can also teach you perseverance. This is valuable but only if you apply it to other areas of your life. You have to understand that just like nobody is going through Celeste in one try, you are not going to master every concept the first time you learn it in school. You need to put in the work. No one is instantly an expert at reading poetry or writing essays. You need to put in the practice.
In moderation, video games offer a fantastic way to challenge your brain while also helping you unwind from a long week. Sian Bellock, author of “Choke”, a book about performance under pressure, says that video games’ benefits range from increased memory to more refined complex motor skills, but notes that there are diminishing returns after playing several hours a week. So if your parents have ever threatened to throw out your console or computer, maybe cut back a little on the gaming. If you must game, however (and I know the feeling), let it lead you to new creative outlets and new insights along the way.