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Gaming: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

systematicHR Avatar

I’ve been writing a lot about gaming and being an advocate for the learning activities that it promotes.  In many cases and for many games, there is active online collaboration, leadership, decision-making, team building, and project management going on.  The participants don’t necessarily know it’s happening, but it is.  However, while the players may be developing essential skills, I have to wonder if the manner in which those skills are being built is optimal.

At the end of the day, are future state interactions still going to be personal and face to face?  Face to face could still mean over a video conference, or just phone conversations, but I’d guess that it’s going to be a while before there is a major transition to only text and voice for major decisions.  When I’m in a meeting with a bunch of HR executives, I try to make sure I’m there face to face and real time.  The work that is done to that point (looking at TCO studies, building a business case, doing interviews…) can all be done remotely, but decisions are not facilitated with as much ease or power when the presenter is not present.

What concerns me is that with gaming, the most dedicated to the game have really removed themselves from real life transactions.  I have images of teenagers who have not seen the light of day for weeks as they are holed up in their bedrooms yelling into their microphones for someone to “cover their back” or whatever.  They have great relationships and command when they are in game, but put them in a cafe or pizza parlor with a bunch of peers, and they are socially inept.  Lacking the ability to communicate in real life is not a valid tradeoff for the skills that they acquire in game.

It used to be that the only way to get the team, collaboration, and leadership skills was to join a club or sport.  Kids play soccer and learn real time how to collaborate with real people who are right in front of them.  You join the debate club and have a debate partner that you have to argue a case with in your next tournament.  The same skills are developed, but with real people transactions.  Certainly, these same kids are not isolated from text, data and voice.  I guarantee you that they have the ability to text their friends faster than I can write an email with a real keyboard.

I’m the king of tradeoffs, it’s what I do to help my clients understand what to evaluate and what direction will be best for their particular organization.  In terms of gaming, there are valuable skills that are to be had from gaming, but I’m wondering if those skills only take a person so far.  At some point, games are not enough.  Real life has to happen.

systematicHR Avatar

7 responses to “Gaming: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

  1. Lexy Martin Avatar

    First of all, I love computer games. I use Bejeweled to decompress at the end of a day and have tallied scores over 500,000. I watch my husband play shooter games like Half Life and Tomb Raider as he gets inspiration for software development from these.
    But, for a moment, I will take the con side with the following:
    My daughter has done substantial research as part of her PhD on the impact of TV and video games. There is a clear link from violent video games to an increase in the acceptance of violence. The next step could be to actual violence. A researcher on this is Brad Busman, University of Michigan. The gist of his research on young developing brains is that kids that watch a lot of TV or spend time on games, often accepted by their families as an easy baby sitter, is not great. They need balance. They need to go outside and play, with others. So, as you say: real life has to happen.

  2. Grant Avatar

    I think the TED video from Jane McGonigal is a very useful addition/response to both the article and comments above, and is well worth viewing. Here’s the link:

  3. systematicHR Avatar

    Grant – thanks for the TED video.

    Lexy: your reuse of the line “real life has to happen” got me thinking about training in a broader sense. If we think about normal training courses we all take as part of our work, there is no assumption that the learner has actually learned anything. Often, there is a repeat class or other form of follow-up after a period of time to see if the learner has used the new knowledge and converted the content to usable skills.

    In some sense, gaming is like a classroom. Indeed, pilots go through all sorts of simulators as do many other professions. You’d never let a pilot fly after having perfected the simulator though.

    The whole idea of violence is disturbing though. Not only ware we training the right skills, we are also training the wrong ones. If we think about how positive it is to have people collaborating, or what good armed forces training first person shooters are, it is equally negative to have games where people drag race on the streets or steal cars for points.

  4. Lexy Martin Avatar

    Yes indeed. Thanks for the TED video, Grant. Jane, who works at the Institute for the Future, where I too worked for several years, believes that games can be a platform for change — positive change. I believe that too.
    Wes…it is indeed negative to have games where characters do bad or stupid things. Kids seem to love those. But we’re not going to stop that — likely too much money in these. So what is the answer?
    In a business context, game-based training seems to be done pretty well these days. Lots of excellent simulations out there and the developers have specific positive goals with their games. It’s perhaps in the kid games where we as parents or grandparents need to exert a bit of attention to ensuring that kids play games with messages, roles, results, etc. consistent with our own, hopefully positive values.

  5. Mark Cruijff Avatar
    Mark Cruijff

    I always love the way you explore your thoughts in your articles. Related to this one I have some thoughts as well.

    I think the most important lesson to teach to children here is in line with the theories of Alfred Korzybski. Some quotes of him are:”Whatever you say it is, it isn’t” or “The map is not the territory”. In other words, the game is not reality. TV is not reality. Clearly distinguish what you see/feel/hear/taste/smell from what really is. Realize that in anything we observe, we simplify and generalize, as our senses are not capable enough to interpret the complex and detailed reality.

    If you can teach a child that, I think this will inherently result in critical thinking, not getting lost in dogma’s and stereotypes. And certainly not in projecting the game to the real world.

  6. systematicHR Avatar

    Thanks Mark. I linked your comment to my next post on “Real Life is Analog”

  7. Rainu Avatar

    I think usually it is a matter of finding something of interest. If gaming is what kids enjoy then as you said gaming clubs all of a sudden brings out the ‘real life social aspect’ in them.