Most video games, even the craziest ones, are about very real things. Driving. Shooting. Flying. And the more you play these games, you more you learn about those things.
I've been playing games for 26 years now, and in that time have flown countless aircraft, countless spacecraft, fired off millions upon millions of rounds of moderately realistic ammunition, and won more wars than I care to remember.
I like to think that, after those 26 years spent simulating, I've learned a thing or two. What recoil is. How a fighter jet handles. What "Oscar Mike" means.
Being a game played on a screen, and not something I've directly experienced, I of course haven't learned how to completely and competently perform any of the following things. You couldn't drop me behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car and expect me to know what all the buttons did, let alone win a race.
But once you showed me how to get it rolling? I'd like to think I knew enough about the principles behind race car driving to give it a shot.
Or any of these other things, for that matter.
FLYING A PLANE I learned it from: Falcon 4.0
Flight simulators teach you not just the very basics of atmospheric flight, but what the various components of an aircraft do. When to retract the landing gear. What happens when you leave landing gear down while flying. What an aileron is (they're the little flaps at the end of a wing that control the plane when it's rolling!). When a plane stalls. When to engage the flaps, and how to manoeuvre the plane in for a landing.
You don't pick that kind of stuff up on the schoolyard or by watching movies; it's only by flying, crashing and dying 1000 times over in a video game that you can really simulate what it's like to fly a plane. Apart from actually flying one, of course, but then you can usually only crash one of those once...
As a result of this, I have an incredibly unhealthy belief that were the pilot of a plane I was on to have a heart attack, I'd leap into the cockpit, shout something into the radio like "OHSHUTUPIVEPLAYEDSTRIKECOMMANDER" and proceed to kill everyone onboard as I slammed into the ocean.
DRIVING A FAST CAR I learned it from: Gran Turismo, among others
Most people know how to drive. But how many people know how to drive around a race track at top speed? I'd wager the answer would be race drivers, car enthusiasts and people who have played racing games.
No game can simulate the physical effects of downforce, slippery roads or the nudge of a competing car, but they can teach you everything you need to know about the theory of driving; things like a racing line, how to take a corner at speed, when you brake and why it's faster to drive behind somebody for a while and then overtake them.
BASIC INFANTRY TACTICS I learned it from: Full Spectrum Warrior, among others
There are plenty of games on the market that take a fairly realistic approach to the control of infantry in the field: Brothers in Arms, Company of Heroes and Full Spectrum Warrior, to name just a few. And while all three of those games are great, their real educational value (aside from historical) is in teaching you how infantry squads keep themselves alive on the battlefield.
This is one where I'm going to really stress that what a game teaches you and what a real soldier is taught are two very different things, but the fact remains that those games make you learn, then practise, proven concepts like taking cover, flanking an enemy, bounding and suppression.
They're probably the least useful things we'll look at today, since it's an area you'd really need proper training to avoid dying instantly, but hey, at least you're learning some of the fundamentals.
FIRE A WEAPON I learned it from: at least one game per week
Ironically, a game can't teach you the very basics of using a firearm: how to pick them up, how to load/reload them, and how to operate them safely. But once you're shown those things, games can teach you many of the finer points behind getting a bullet on target.
A gamer will know, for example, not to simply point an automatic weapon at a target and hold the trigger down. A gun will recoil back in that situation, causing your bullets to run upwards and away from their target. This happens in Modern Warfare, Medal of Honor, Crysis, almost every contemporary game that has you fire a weapon. Instead, you use short, controlled bursts of fire, each time checking that your sights remain where they should be.
A gamer will also know that a sniper scope isn't a magic killing device (well, in most games, anyway). The greater the distance between the player and their moving prey, the more "lead" you need to provide so the bullet doesn't end up behind them. Many games, from Hitman to Modern Warfare, have now also taught people that it's only by lying down and keeping your breathing steady that you can be truly effective.
WILDERNESS SURVIVAL I learned it from: Minecraft
You are washed up on an island. You have no tools. No weapons. No friends. What do you do? You do exactly what you do in Minecraft: you chop down wood, you build tools, you build yourself a shelter, and when the sun comes down, you get inside and you stay there.
After that, you have to scrape and scrounge for everything you want or need, battling not just the impending night but the limitations of your own two hands and the materials available.
Yes, once you start building castles shaped like Bowser its past the stage of teaching you anything useful, but those first hours are as good a refresher on basic human survival as you'll find in a video game.
So, quite a practical list of things! It's also slightly sad that half the things were related to the art of killing other humans, while the other half were about driving fast machines. Other equally important things, like civic management (SimCity), being a rock star (Rock Band), being a lawyer (Phoenix Wright) and healing the sick (Trauma Centre) are simulated to an extent in games, they're just a little too abstract, not providing enough specific teaching to let you feel like you could walk in an actual mayor's or rock star's shoes.
And the game that has taught me how to love? Where is that?