Hello again. I’m Travis Taft, and this is Total Access.
Most weeks I use this space to share my thoughts on the less obvious implications of the gaming industry or a specific title. This week I’d like to do something a bit different and talk about a story from my life where gaming and my disability overlapped.
But before I begin, I just want to contextualize where I am coming from in telling this story. With the New Year behind us I have had resolutions on my mind, trying to be the best Travis I can be. I’ve been dieting more strictly, exercising more often, and trying to find work (but don’t worry – I’ll always find time for my brothers and sisters of AbleGamers).
Part of the process of bettering myself includes taking a somewhat harsh look at my life and being honest about what I see. Some of the things are obvious – I could definitely afford to lose a few pounds and physical therapy only becomes more important with time.
But some things aren’t as obvious. For example – if I need to be more careful with my money (which I do), should I cut more from eating out or from doing things with my girlfriend? Both have very positive aspects that I would be foolish to dismiss, but both also have the potential to be over indulged in.
Those examples may both carry an element of the issue, but I’d say that they pretty clearly fall more heavily on the positive-influence side than the negative one. But some of the items on my life’s inventory were much more ambiguous. I’ll skip over a few examples that may not be appropriate to get into here and cut to the one that all of this has been leading up to – Are video games something that should only be saved for time that cannot be used more productively, or do they have virtues that should be valued for their own sake?
Traditionally the answer is obvious. Video games are idle past times and nothing more, with no value outside of killing time. Modern viewpoints aren’t as clear cut. Yes, they are still games, but the very real benefits are gaining recognition from professionals and the general public alike.
Professionally, I could mention various studies or just point to how many rehabilitation units have begun using video games as part of treatments. As for a more common person’s perspective, I’ve written before about how the gamer’s mind can excel at analysis and problem solving (see: The Mindset). There is another side of my personal experience I’d like to share too, and that is the gamer’s potential for adaptability.
Many of you probably remember playing a console for the first time. Holding the new controller in your hands, trying to make it do what you want it to do. If you were like me, then when you were first getting into gaming there were issues with trying to watch the screen and your hands at the same time. The hand/controller divide was a vast canyon with plenty of information lost between the two sides.
Fast forward to me getting my GameCube in high school. By then I was a seasoned gamer who had saved dozens of kingdoms and galaxies dozens of times. Obviously my improved rational thinking and reflex-tuning helped me be a better at the games, but there was more than just that. I remember right from the first time I laid my hands on a GameCube controller my fingers knew exactly where to go. At some point along the way I had developed a natural ability to intuitively understand almost any interface presented to me. (I may have developed it a generation earlier, but I’d say even the most seasoned gaming veteran would be excused for fumbling with the N64 controller at first).
For a long time I had assumed that most people naturally developed this sense as well. It is certainly quite prevalent in my generation even in people who don’t play games particularly often. I guess I figured that people older than us just couldn’t figure it out because of some prejudice about how quickly older people picked up on new things.
But it wasn’t that at all. Previous generations weren’t missing something that I had assumed to be a default human trait – I was just a part of a generation that had been blessed with an amazing new skill, a skill with very real application for the world.
This realization became particularly apparent to me when I began taking classes to learn how to use hand controls for a vehicle. I had driven a car before my injury but I was legally required to receive instruction with the new controls before I could reapply for a new license.
I remembered the experience of going through driver’s ed the first time through, so as you may imagine I was less than thrilled about doing it all again. Luckily I got to skip the Red Pavement videos and get straight to actually learning to drive the vehicle. So I went to my first lesson and got behind the wheel for the first time since my injury.
We didn’t do much that first day – mostly the instructor just told me what different things did. But near the end he let me actually drive the car a few feet.
It was a little jerky as I got used to the sensitivity, and the small sedan handled rather differently than the SUV I had driven in the past, but right off the bat I felt quite comfortable with the controls. I didn’t do anything reckless like ignore the instructor and take it around the block on the very first day, but in the back of my mind I felt like I could have.
I progressed quickly. I still made little mistakes for a bit but few of them were actually about the controls – my biggest issue was going too far over the line at stop signs. Accelerating at a good pace, using turn signals properly – even parallel parking were all spot on by my third session.
My instructor told me he had never seen anyone get so good at using the hand controls so quickly. I nonchalantly replied that he had probably never met anyone who played as many video games as I did. We both laughed, but the statement was no less true. If anything, I found using the hand controls to be even easier than driving normally. After all, how many hundreds of hours had I already spent piloting everything from sports cars to space ships using just my two hands? That I was used to. It was bringing the feet into the equation that always seemed unnatural.
There are things to be kept in mind, though. While all of my gaming experience certainly helped me learn to drive again, it also brought along one or two less beneficial side effects with it. Suffice to say, during the peak of my Mario-Kart phase I got into two (very minor) bumps in two days. Neither of them had any serious lasting repercussions, but something tells me that I would have avoided at least one of them if Mario Kart hadn’t let me grow a bit too comfortable with ramming into other vehicles.
So I guess that like with many things in life, things come down to more of a shade of grey than a clearly defined black or white. Video games may be best kept somewhat under moderation, but without them I don’t think I would be the man I am today.