I'm live blogging from the Games for Change Conference in NYC. The key note was delivered by Steven Johnson, author of "Everything Bad for You is Good." In the book, he makes an argument for why playing digital games is good for their brains.
Susan Seggerman, co-founder of Games for Change, introduced Stephen with a great story. They were presenting in Davos, Switzerland. The first panel on video games at Davos. "The best part of the conference was when he got in front of the crowd of CEOs of major tech companies and he stood up raised his hand - asked, "How do you feel about using games for educational purposes?" Initial response was positive. Bill Gates said, "This is one of the best books written." Doesn't get better than that for an author.
"The funny thing that having Bill Gates say he loves your book. I thought he was my friend. I went over to him afterwards and said Bill, thanks for the plug. I was convinced he was going to invite me to his mansion to play games. No he didn't!"
He started with a clip from The Colbert Report. In Sims, you do household chores. "I think these kids are being played and you're getting them to take out the trash and I think its cool."
He mentioned that the game Civilization 4 came out since the book as published. He uses it uses it as an example of experience of 15 year olds. He goes through the discussion boards and grabs some of the topics -- to give a sense of the gamer's debates.
- How do you guys control your workers?
- Is there a way of hindering the space race?
- Is it ever worth it not to build a shrine for your first great prophet?
- Beware of the sudden collapse experience?
He starts with how Lost gave us a control study with a comparison - Gilligan's Island - to compare the complexity. Lost is one of the first shows that has been structured as a game.
He showed a slide that illustrates Lost's Mysteries (e.g. Ontological, formal, math, history, gegography, biographic). Encourages people to play along at home. See the fan sites.
He shows the map of the underground layer of the hatch from the show put together by a fan. A fan sat there with the TIVO freeze frame and figured out the spatial relationships. The map links to a detailed description. This is a walk through for a game. The biggest shows on tv are now taking it ques from the gaming world. The fans relate to show like gamers.
He then shared the push/back skepticism that he receives from his book. He goes on to present the talking points for the serious gamers:
If games are making us smarter, how come everyone is so stupid?
-IQ have gone up, SATs going up, other reasons underestimating
-Skills that games are teaching are ones that we don't have the tools to measure
- Systems thinking - need to use to think about ecosystems, cultural systems, rich profound form of thought. Games teach this.
- Telescoping - managing of multiple objectives - prioritize, figuring them out
- Visual intelligence - other cliche with hand/eye coordination
- rule/interface intreepretation - decipher on the fly, learning by doing
- distributed collaboration - building worlds together
- patience - these games are very hard - spend 30 hours to figure out civilation 4 - sit down and learn this complex system. Opposite of instant gratification culture. The kid says "you are supposed to figure it out." If each time you played chess, the basic rules were changed. Each time you sit down - would have to figure out how it worked and then do your strategy.
What about Grand Theft Auto?
Colbert quipped, "I know my car jacking skills have gone up ..."
The walk through for that game is 53,000 words long. Longer than his book. It's an open moral universe on some level.
We've just lived through the most dramatic drop in crime. This is the least violent generation since the 50's. Not saying there is a correlation.
Playing hyper violent games does lead to aggregation. There's another games - it's called high school football. Does it lead to pathalogical levels of aggression?
Do we ever hear the question: Do you think they should play football versus do homework?
What about Columbine?
Crazy people get influenced to crazy things. What happens to sane people? Are we only able to point to isolated incidents?
Okay maybe they're getting better at the skills, but they have no imagination. I used to play with blocks when I was a kid.
Imaginative play is an important part of being a kid. His response: I remember that I used to pretend that I was flying a plane and now a kid can fly a plane in a fight simulator. Whose ability to imagine is better? No they haven conjured up those experiences on their own, so their imagination is being compromised.
Is traveling to other countries bad for your imagination? You won't be able to imagine that better way of life or different culture if you actually go there.
I agree that the games are mentally challenging, but my 17 year old has been plaing WOW for the last 3 weeks?
Tells addiction story.
Addiction is like the force in Star Wars - used for good or evil. No question that those games have a powerful hold over our us. How do you harness that power for good? What are the component parts of games that make it so addicting? If we can take that addictive structure and mix in some education ideas - that's a powerful cocktail.
Not just the flashy graphics. Not just the control. It's more complicated than that.
The Power of Addiction
A few points where games have a hard time reaching the achievement of other forms, like books.
Psychological depth. Games you can control character's hunger, comfort, hypgeine, bladder levels. You can't get to a more nuanced form of the inner life like the novel is good at doing. There is something about the game cultural mode that makes complexity difficult.
Memory: Refers to Lost flashbacks. It is hard to do that with a game. If you are forced to remember something - the internal experience of memory - that games have a hard time doing.
Fixed Causal Chains: Showing you the possibliities. What did happen? To do teach it - the games stop being games. Sometimes you need a history book to tell you what happened.
Argument and Persuasion: Not convinced for the capacity of games for argument, better for experimentation.
The written word is better at doing these things. Games can't teach people how to write, but would love to be proven wrong.
The Written Word: If you're so hot on video games, why did you write a book?
To the extent that my book emplified a discussion taking place around gaming - that conversation could only happen via a book. It took 230 pages of linear argument. Couldn't do it in a sound bite, game, or blog post. The book was well suited for that type of change making - persuade people of something they didn't believe. Culture still values books, we're reading less.
Conversation recognizes the limits as well as the power.
Aldon Hynes is sitting in front me and also live blogging - doing a great job - he didn't have to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a train!
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