Things I Learned from Playing Video Games

There have been many times over the course of my life where I’ve heard people say, “Playing games rots the brain,” or “Get out and do something productive.” As a child or teenager, I didn’t care to listen. Nor did I want anything to take away from my hours of gameplay.

As an adult looking back, I can safely say that playing games has helped enrich my life—in some ways helped shape me into the person I am. Whether they were educational games that were very direct about what they taught or titles that imparted some skill or knowledge about the world, I feel I learned a lot from video games.

Below is my list—in no particular order—of things I picked up from playing games.

1) foreign languages – You wouldn’t think that video games would be a good source for learning another language, but I have picked up something of a vocabulary from doing so. From various titles, I have picked up a bit of Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, and even Latin. Nothing’s really stuck, but I believe I can commit certain phrases to memory by replaying select games or watching clips on YouTube. Examples: Phantasmagoria, Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Fallout 4.

2) money management – Budgeting is a key factor when it comes to simulation games particularly those where you’re put in charge of a business such as a zoo or amusement park that has to stay profitable to remain open. It took me some time to learn that the trick is to pace yourself and not spend too much at one time on upgrades. I wouldn’t say I’m perfect at money management, but there are game titles that are a good teaching tool. Examples: Sim Theme Park, Big Pharma, Zoo Tycoon.

3) firearms – Until I started playing the immersive role-playing game Fallout 3, I didn’t have very much knowledge of firearms. I have since developed a greater understanding of guns—different types and how they operate—by playing more third-person or first-person shooters. Enough to know that I favor sniper rifles, assault rifles, or a bow and arrow. Examples: the Fallout series, Skyrim, Far Cry 3.

4) card/casino/board games – Though I grew up with a small collection of board games, they failed to hold my interest once I became a teenager. I would say I’ve played the classics – Monopoly, Clue, Chess – much more in digital form. There are certain video games that feature a wide array of vintage board and card games and serve as a great way to learn about their real-world counterparts. Through video games, I’ve learned the rules and gameplay for cribbage, Chinese checkers, backgammon, and variations of poker—Let It Ride, Texas Hold Em, Three Card Poker—featured in the casino. Examples: Hoyle Board Games, Hoyle Card Games, Fallout: New Vegas, Battle Chess, Governor of Poker.

5) the art of stealth – In both the real world and simulated world, I am someone who prefers to avoid conflict as much as possible. I’ve seen gameplay videos where other gamers rush wholeheartedly into battle, but that’s simply not me. I am patient enough to bide my time and slowly take down an adversary from the shadows or quietly vacate the area. I believe I once spent an hour navigating my way through a room where a dangerous creature resided because I didn’t want to fight. Examples: the Fallout series, Skyrim, Fortnite, PUBG, Far Cry 3.

6) human nature/psychology – One of the things I like best about story-driven video games is the look they give you into different mindsets. Video games aren’t my only source for learning about the human psyche, but they are one of the most prevalent. This look at how heroes and villains react to situations or to each other has helped me greatly when it comes to crafting my own stories. I would say I have a better intuition of what would or wouldn’t work for a given character. Some of my fanfiction readers have even praised me for my representation of characters from other mediums, such as Resident Evil and Transformers. Examples: the Resident Evil series, Life is Strange, Beyond: Two Souls.

7) politics – I’ve never been a fan of politics even though it is still very much a part of my life. I get more enjoyment from politics in video games than the real world—which might be because games give you more of a say over who gets put in charge of a nation or country. In a lot of ways, a fictional leader is more appealing and ideal to me than those in real life. I feel I’ve learned more from video games about what a political leader should be and that’s someone who never stops putting the people first and acting in their best interest. I do hope that someday I get to see a president in real life who has more of a positive impact on the state of the nation. Examples: the Tropico series, Cat President, Fallout: New Vegas.

8) building management\construction – I’ve played a wide array of video games where building a military base, settlement, or house is a key feature. I’m no expert at building a compact efficient living space, but I feel I’d be proficient at designing a colony if I had to. Examples: The Sims, the Dune series, Fallout 4.

9) ancient civilizations\mythology – I’ve been fascinated with mythology ever since I was a child. Video games have served as a good way to learn more about it. Select titles I’ve played have deepened my knowledge of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology, as well as provided a glimpse at the way of life of ancient civilizations. Examples: Age of Empires, Age of Mythology, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Fallout: New Vegas.

10) food preparation – I don’t know if there are any actual video games out there that impart knowledge about cooking, but I have played plenty that show how to prepare meals. When it comes to making hamburgers, cakes, or omelettes, I at least have some idea of ingredients that would go good with each. Examples: Cooking Dash, Stand O’Food, Cake Mania.

11) logic\strategy – I’ve played more than my share of puzzle-based games in my life and they remain some of my all-time favorites even though they’ve fallen by the wayside. I’ve always been good at solving spatial or logic puzzles and video games have helped accentuate this skill. I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t had this consistent means of challenging myself. Examples: Portal 1 & 2, Words with Friends, Memory Match, Hoyle Puzzle Games, Tetris.

12) survival\resource management – For games where survival is the main priority, resource gathering can be the defining factor between life and death. Some survival-based games can be more challenging than others, but all make you really think about what is needed to stay alive. If I ever encounter a situation in real life where I’m forced to think about managing resources, my chances would be pretty good. Examples: Oregon Trail 2, Don’t Starve, Subnautica, 60 Seconds, The Forest.

13) interior design – My interest in the Sims series may have waned over the years, but it still has enriched my life to some degree. While I loved the Sims for the ability to bring my stories to life and create physical representations of fictional characters I’d dreamed up, one of the other perks was creating houses featured in my stories. Gameplay aside, the Sims can also serve as a good tool for testing out interior design ideas before actually implementing them in your home.

14) keen observation – I like to think that my many years of playing video games has made me hyper-aware of the world around me. In my everyday life, I am observant to the extent that I sometimes surprise people with how quickly I’m able to spot something. Video games—especially mystery games—have also greatly improved my listening skills. This has translated to me being a very good listener when it comes to my job. Examples: Panic in the Park, Treasure Quest, Tetris, Bubble Bobble, Jewel Quest.

15) good hand-eye coordination – Another way in which video games have helped enrich my life is by helping me develop exceptional reflexes. Not only am I able to quickly see something—such as a cellphone in danger of falling to the floor—I am able to react fast enough to prevent something bad from happening. I’d like to attribute this trait to the vintage Atari or arcade games I consistently played in my youth, but it realistically could have come from games I’ve played as a whole.

16) history – Of the many subjects I’ve picked up from video games, history or knowledge of historical figures has been the most prevalent. I have played a good amount of period-piece games that have deepened my understanding of past world events. I do hope that history remains an element present in video games for years to come. It’s always a thrill to learn something new. Examples: Fallout 3 & 4, Oregon Trail 2, Titanic: Adventure Out of Time.

17) geography – When it comes to learning geography, there are certain game titles that impart a good deal of knowledge. The Fallout series particularly is a good resource with its faithful representations of 50s-era Washington DC, Las Vegas, Boston, and the surrounding areas for each. Granted, the Fallout series is largely set in post-apocalyptic America, but it still gives you a good idea of locations and landmarks. Examples: Fallout 3 & 4, Fallout: New Vegas, Where in (Europe\the U.S.A.\the World) is Carmen Sandiego?

18) astronomy – I don’t know of many games that teach about astronomy or the Milky Way. But the educational\sleuthing game, Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego, has a heavy emphasis on the topic. This particular game was a good source for learning about our solar system, from the moons associated with each planet to info about the Asteroid Belt and the sun. It’s a shame that there aren’t a lot of other video games like it.

19) mathematics – I remember having a greater appreciation for math in my youth than I do now. As a child, I loved the challenge of solving basic math problems. It was even better to see addition and subtraction problems incorporated in video games I loved to play. My interest in mathematic may have waned over the years, but I still look back fondly on educational games that made it fun. Examples: Number Munchers, Troggle Trouble Math.

20) vocabulary – The way in which video games have enriched my life the most is by expanding my vocabulary. From educational to story-driven games to word puzzles, I don’t know who I’d be if games hadn’t been such a huge part of my life. In the long run, I’d say that video games have played a significant role in shaping who I am as a writer.

In general, video games can be so much more than a source of entertainment. If you really think about it, there is a lot of knowledge you can take away from games just by stopping to take a good look or listen.

I hope you found this blogpost interesting and thought-provoking. Please leave your comments below—I’d love to hear from you.

Don’t Tell Me What to Do!

“I’m a dreamer so don’t tell me not to dream.” (1)

On the GMA television show November 8, 2018, I heard Martin Garrix, singer, and Mike Yung, guitarist, perform a powerful song, “Dreamer.” The lyrics began with that poignant plea, don’t tell me not to dream.” While listening, I couldn’t stop my tears from flowing.

How many times have you been told to stop daydreaming? How will stories be written, songs be composed, and art be created if we stop daydreaming? Where would technology be now if not for the dreamers?

“I’m a lover. Don’t tell me who to love.” (1)

Why do some people insist that you can only love people within your religious community, your ethnic group, or someone of the opposite sex?

“I’m a runner cause I’ve got somewhere to run.” (1)

Why question someone else’s reason for running, flying, snowboarding, hang gliding, or any other activity that may seem frivolous or dangerous?

When you sing, does anyone tell you that your voice is terrible? Please tell them that you sing because you feel it in your heart. Continue singing. After all, you’re not trying out for “The Voice.You’re expressing yourself. Has someone commented on your awkward dancing style? Please continue to dance because you want to, not because you want to appear on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Live your life. Don’t let someone else tell you how to live. Daydream if you so choose. Sing like nobody is listening. “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” (2)


(1) Goggle Dreamer by Martin Garrix and Mike Yung

(2) Words and music by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers © Copyright 2000

Just Google It, Grammie

I miss the days of finding information in my family’s World Book Encyclopedia. Using these reference books to complete a homework assignment took much longer than it should have. Why? Because I’d continue reading about whatever subject I’d accidently run across while looking for the information I needed to complete my report.


As an adult, I wanted a more up-to-date set of encyclopedias and purchased the Encyclopedia Americana © 1986. For years I’d make time to grab one of the books at random, open any page, and read. I learned about a variety of plants, researched foreign leaders, and studied the solar system.


To research a topic now, I simply google it as my granddaughter suggested. There’s no longer the strong possibility of inadvertently discovering something quite different from my original topic of interest. Now my concern is what to do with my old set of encyclopedias. The libraries don’t need them. Used bookstores won’t take them. Modern families have the internet at their fingertips, and I hate to send them to the landfill.


What do you suggest I do with my encyclopedias?

My Top 10 Video Games with Variant Stories

As a child, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. There was something about the notion of getting a different story with each read that guaranteed I would keep coming back to these books. Most story-based video games can also be considered as choose-your-own-adventure. Especially those that allow you to personally decide how the story will play out.

Below is my top ten list of video games that offer a lot of versatility with each playthrough.

10) Phantasmagoria (spoiler alert) – An interactive horror game released in the mid-90s, Phantasmagoria tells the story of Adrienne Delaney and her husband Don after they’ve moved into a haunted century-old mansion. The house was previously owned by a 19th Century illusionist who was married five times and whose wives either went missing or died under mysterious circumstances. The game features hours worth of content. There is much to explore to uncover the truth and discover what’s happening to Don when he gets possessed. It’s easy to miss an aspect of the story if you don’t thoroughly examine everything in each chapter. What keeps Phantasmagoria from a higher rank is the fixed singular ending – Adrienne is forced to kill her husband to keep him from killing her.

9) Life Is Strange (spoiler alert) – Life is Strange is a coming-of-age drama game that centers around teenager Max Caulfield and her discovery that she can rewind time–an ability she uses largely for selfish gain. Life is Strange gives you the option to look at both choices of decisions to make throughout the game before locking one of them in. While this game offers two conclusions, the bad ending doesn’t really delve into the repercussions of Max’s decision to sacrifice the townsfolk to an f5 tornado to save her dearest friend. I still love Life is Strange in spite of the lackluster ending for its many different paths over the course of the game.

8) Resident Evil 2 – The first Resident Evil game may have launched the survival horror franchise, but it is the second title that really breathed life into the series. Resident Evil 2 introduced players to Leon Kennedy– a rookie cop on his first day on the force–and Claire Redfield–a college student in search of her missing brother. What sets Resident Evil 2 apart from the rest of the series is that one character’s actions impact how the other’s story plays out. For instance, starting with Leon’s campaign dictates the path taken by Claire through the police station and vice versa. The game’s developers gave players two differing narratives–Leon A\Claire B or Claire A\Leon B–to offer a unique experience with each playthrough. What makes Resident Evil 2 even better is that you can also assume the role of one of the antagonists in a separate scenario or play as a block of tofu armed with a knife–a joke character thrown in by the developers. But like Phantasmagoria, Resident Evil 2 always ends the same no matter which character you start with.

7) the Mass Effect trilogy – Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 earn top marks for having the most variance in their narrative, but fall flat due to a disappointing penultimate ending. To get the most out of the trilogy, you’d have to play through all three games. Saved data can be imported from one title to the next to keep track of the choices you’ve made, such as whether you saved or sacrificed a given character. I love the trilogy for letting you decide whether your main character will be male or female, peacemaker or badass, or monogamous or field-player. I just wish Mass Effect 3 had featured multiple endings as well.

6) Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – Well before the ongoing series of films featuring Marvel Comics superheroes were on the horizon, the video game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was the definitive guide to the comic book characters. The game takes you on an epic journey from the bottom of the ocean to the far reaches of space, from the depths of Hell to Asgard, home of the Norse Gods. The basic storyline of the game sees members of the X-Men, Avengers, and the Fantastic Four–as well as other superheroes that operate solo–band together to combat a massive team comprised of their respective arch-enemies. In between missions, you have the option of learning all sorts of trivia about every character–and then some–featured in Ultimate Alliance. What makes the game even more interesting is that you can customize your team at the start of each mission. Even better–each time a hero and antagonist who have a history come face to face, it will trigger a unique bit of dialogue. I would definitely recommend giving this game a look if you’re a big fan of Marvel Comics–you won’t be disappointed.

5) Dragon Age: OriginsDragon Age: Origins is a game that I have yet to play through to the end, but what little I’ve seen has earned it a spot on this list. The fantasy fighting game starts with you selecting one of six characters to join a warrior faction called the Grey Wardens for the purpose of combating an ancient evil. Each character has their own unique background and origin story–the game gives you a glimpse into their lives prior to their arrival at the academy. I don’t know a whole lot about Dragon Age, but I’ve heard that your character’s gender also has an impact on how the narrative plays out.

4) Beyond: Two Souls (spoiler alert) – Beyond: Two Souls is a game that tells its story in a non-linear format, jumping back and forth to different points in the life of heroine Jodie. She is a character who has lived with a spirit guide named Aiden her entire life, and she has the unique ability to see the world through his perspective. Unfortunately for Jodie, she is taken from her mother at birth and is exploited as a spy by the government due to her ability to obtain information from a distance. The game largely revolves around Jodie’s journey to find where she belongs in an unforgiving world. Beyond: Two Souls is a great game not only for its variant story, but also for its multiple endings. There is even an outcome where Jodie dies and herself becomes a spirit guide to a young girl born during the course of the game.

3) Until Dawn (spoiler alert) – A survival horror game where even the slightest miscalculation can get a character killed, Until Dawn is definitely a nerve-wracking experience. The story follows eight friends vacationing at a mountain lodge owned by one of them, where they are besieged by a group of violent supernatural creatures. Until Dawn is not a perfect game–the story is chock full of plot holes and a few characters are downright annoying–but it does offer a lot of variance. It can end in any number of ways–ranging from everyone making it through the night to zero survivors.

2) King’s Quest VI – The Kings Quest games as a whole chronicle the story of a knight who earned the title of king and his family. The sixth game in the series follows the king’s son, Alexander, on his quest to rescue his true love, Cassima, upon receiving word that she and her kingdom are in danger. What’s most unique about Kings Quest VI is that you can either speed your way through it or take a longer path through the narrative to obtain the best possible ending. While the game ultimately concludes with Alexander and Cassima’s wedding, the ceremony can either have a sparse amount of guests or be a large, joyous event attended by both their families.

1) Heavy Rain (spoiler alert) – Heavy Rain is a dramatic mystery game that largely revolves around Ethan Mars, a father desperately racing against time after his son is abducted by a serial murderer known as the Origami Killer. The game also follows three other characters–journalist Madison, FBI agent Nathan, and P.I. Scott–investigating the killer and their crimes. What I like most about Heavy Rain is that there are dozens of ways in which it can end based on the actions of its four leading characters. There is even a scenario where the killer survives and escapes justice. Heavy Rain offers so much variety with each playthrough that I wish there were more video games like it.

While I love video games in general, the ones that offer flexibility in their story-telling definitely make me want to play through them multiple times. I do wish there were more games out there that let you choose your own adventure, but I am satisfied with what’s out there for now.


This Is Us Has Returned

The television show, The Paley Center Salutes This Is Us, debuted with much fanfare one week prior to the return of my favorite TV show, This Is Us. The Paley show discussed the many layers of the characters’ lives including the birth of triplets, one of whom was stillborn. The Caucasian parents adoption of an abandoned African American baby who was born the same day makes for many awkward moments in their upbringing.

The time-tripping story takes you throughout their lives, often in the same episode. Viewers must watch carefully for clues to which era is being portrayed. The Paley Center program introduced the creators, writers, directors, and actors of this popular dramatic, multigenerational series. The program revealed insight into how they were able to portray the intertwining of the characters’ complicated lives from childhood to adulthood.

The writers worked diligently to create a believable family drama and allowed the actors to have some input into how their characters evolved. One heart wrenching example involved one actor’s disclosure that his father died when he was ten years old. This allowed the actor to use the impact of his loss in a compelling reaction to the death of his actor father during a significant scene.

The popularity of this series prompted People Magazine to publish an entire issue devoted to the complete guide to the show. Each character is described and featured with beautiful color pictures. Snippets of storylines are explained and hints of scenes to come are revealed. For devoted fans of This Is Us, this magazine is a keeper.

Some fans of the show go online after each episode to discuss the numerous story lines and how they are affected by them. Many people have said they relate to the characters’ problems and are touched by the way characters handle each situation.  

To understand this compelling, multigenerational, multiracial story, watch the series from the beginning. Get a copy of the magazine. Have your tissue handy. If you are already a fan, please tell me how this show affects you.