Academic Minute Podcast

James Dawes, Macalester College – Virtue and Video Games

Video games can get a bad rap at times, but they can bring benefits to those who play them.

James Dawes, DeWitt Wallace professor of English at Macalester College, examines how

James Dawes teaches narrative across the disciplines. His areas of research expertise include human rights, artificial intelligence, and the ethics of storytelling in fields ranging from creative writing to video game design. He is the author of several books, including Evil Men, winner of the International Human Rights Book Award, and That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity, Independent Publisher Book Award Finalist. He has written for or appeared as the feature guest on media outlets ranging from National Public Radio, the BBC, and Bulgarian National Radio to the Boston Globe, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and He was a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. in English Literature from Harvard University and his M. Phil. from Cambridge University.

Virtue and Video Games

Have you ever experienced this? You walk into the TV room and see somebody you love on the couch playing video games. Again. And you feel frustrated and disappointed with them. Or maybe you’ve been the one on the couch – again — feeling frustrated and disappointed with yourself.

Like many popular forms of entertainment, video games are often looked down upon. It’s as if they are somehow morally bad for you. But video games fulfill basic human needs, and excellence in games can be a reminder of what is best in us.

According to “self-determination theory,” humans have an innate need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

When gamers finally beat the boss level of a game, they experience competence. When 13-year-old Willis Gibson became the first human to beat the original Nintendo version of Tetris – dedicating the world-record win to his father, who passed away the month before – he turned that need for competence into the virtue of mastery.

When gamers play “sandbox” video games like “Minecraft,” they create and explore their own virtual worlds, setting intrinsically motivated goals. They experience autonomy. When a gamer who goes by the username PippenFTS decided to re-create the whole earth in “Minecraft” on a 1:1 scale, he turned that need for autonomy into the virtue of vision.

When gamers play online together, defeating hordes of virtual enemies, they experience relatedness. When Halo 3 players collaborated to reach the gobsmacking milestone of 10 billion virtual kills against alien enemies – organizing round-the-clock, global campaign shifts and sharing strategies in 21 million online discussion posts – they turned that need for relatedness into the virtue of loyalty.

Video games pull us onto the couch because they give us opportunities to fill basic needs, and to be glorious, when life in the real world too often does not.


The post James Dawes, Macalester College – Virtue and Video Games appeared first on The Academic Minute.