Oh My Tech!: Video games aren’t just fun and games for Boy Scouts

By Vince Horiuchi

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: March 14, 2013 10:49AM
Updated: March 19, 2013 05:23PM
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Vince Horiuchi

Whenever my wife yells at me for playing a video game for too long a time instead of [insert worthless and grimy household chore here], I like to give her my spiel about why I’m hunkered down in front of the computer monitor playing “Tomb Raider” for five hours straight.

“But honey, I’m increasing my eye-hand coordination. I’m improving my problem-solving skills. I’m learning about conflict resolution. I’m figuring out how to overcome long odds. I’m working together with others to accomplish a goal. I’m learning how to create my own compelling stories,” I’ll plead.

Then she orders me to take out the garbage anyway.

But now I have some news that I can rub in her face. The Boy Scouts of America this week introduced its latest merit badge: Game Design.

That’s right. Now Scouts can earn a badge by learning about their favorite interactive entertainment. It certainly beats the Basketry, Drafting or Reading badges. And it’s got to be better than the, gulp, Journalism badge.

But let’s dispel any preconceived notions right now. You don’t receive the Game Design badge by playing video games all day, and it’s not just limited to electronic entertainment (although who would pick chess for this merit badge?). Scouts will actually have to work for this one, which underscores just how much energy and thought video games require.

“To earn this merit badge, a Scout is required to analyze different types of games; describe play value, content and theme; and understand the significance of intellectual property as it relates to the game industry,” according to a BSofA press release.

Then the Scout has to design a game, build a prototype and test it. He can use dice, cards, develop a board game or even a smartphone application. Out of all those choices, designing a video game would be the most difficult.

If playing a video game can be hard work (just ask any hardcore “Call of Duty” player), making one is even more challenging.

Many universities now have video game design courses. For several years, the University of Utah has had both an undergraduate and graduate program in video game design, and just this week, the school was named the best in the country, according to The Princeton Review.

And then when these students get out into the real world and join a video game developer, the work gets even more strenuous. These artists and engineers will spend long hours poring through a lot of mathematical, physics and computer calculations to create their virtual worlds.

I’ve written plenty of stories about local game developers, where the employees ended up setting up cots in their offices for the last couple of months of the development cycle in order to finish the game before it shipped to stores. The result of all this arduous labor is an $8 billion- to $10 billion-a-year business that employs hundreds of thousands of people around the country.

The Boy Scouts of America recognizes that video games are just as legitimate as any other trade and deserve a little respect.

“Playing challenges us to overcome long odds, tell compelling stories, and work with or against one another,” the organization said in its release. “Games motivate both young and old to find creative solutions, practice new skills, and keep their brains active.”

Hey, isn’t that what I just said?

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he’ll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.