I promised my teens I’d blog about our recent discussion and their argument for playing more video games. Since I’m a man of my word (sort of), here’s my best take on the conversation. When kids make a good point, it is my hope that you will find it of interest and read more.
Her name is Jane McGonigal, Ph.D. As I open the link that one of my boys emailed to me, I hear her talking about video games that I’ve never heard of so I holler down the hallway, “Have you guys heard of World of Warcraft?” Laughter. “How about Heroditus?” Silence. I was hoping they might have heard of the historical figure…and not the online video game. I keep listening to her presentation.
Anybody whose work earns a Ph.D. from Berkley deserves a modicum of my attention and respect …just because it’s hard to get doctoral degrees from prestigious universities last time I checked. When Dr. McGonigal’s work crossed my desk and one of my teenagers labeled her work a “paradigm shift,” I knew it deserved a closer look. She argues that we spend three BILLION hours a week in online gaming, and here’s her hook: she insists that’s not nearly enough.
I’d like to begin by saying that there is not even ONE cell in my brain…no, my entire body that thinks kids should play more video games, so I was struggling to believe that there was any merit to her thesis that the world of online video games could have some huge benefit in the real world. Many teens will find it unbelievable that they spend 10,800 hours in school from 5th grade to graduation (assuming perfect attendance!), and there are folks who argue that 10,000 hours of practice at anything will turn you into a virtuoso. According to a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, the average young person in a country that has a strong “gamer culture” will spend more than 10,000 hours playing online games. Virtuosos in the making, one might argue.
If you, like me, think this is out of control, listen to her presentation. I cannot do it justice, but I can tell you that I was actually captivated by the historical Heroditus whose story suggests the importance of gaming as it developed in the 5th Century. I do not disagree with McGonnagel’s cogent argument that gaming nurtures an “urgent optimism” for the individual that can possibly scale and benefit society. Could it be that games really can pool an untapped reservoir of creative problem solvers hungry for another epic win and ultimately save the world?
Her newest games have sparked my curiosity: World Without Oil and Evoke. I’m seriously considering becoming a player. If I finish the epic Evoke adventure with my teens, we will be certified by the World Bank Institute (yes, the real World Bank Institute!) as a Social Innovator.
As a parent, it has been challenging to find common ground with my teens. It may not be as hard as I once thought if I can get the hang of this controller. I’m interested in what you think. There’s an email link at this webpage to write to me. We change the world by what we teach our children. Perhaps they change it too, by what they teach us.