Allow me to apologize for the length of this narrative as I need to provide a direct quote before launching into the actual subject. Imagine a world in which video games were invented before books. Books would come along at some point and because they are a new medium they would be assailed. You could imagine that a critic of books might write:
Reading books chronically under-stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of game-playing - which engages the child in a vivid three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements - books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain is devoted to processing written language which is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.
Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children.
But perhaps the most dangerous property of books is that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control their narrative in any fashion - you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person.
Reading is not an active, participatory process; it's a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to "follow the plot" instead of learning to lead.
That is an excerpt from the book (how ironic) "Everything Bad is Good For You" by Steven Johnson which takes a humorous but legitimate look at the notion that pop culture is all bad. Now, anyone who frequents this blog knows I love to read, so I'm not anti-book, but I am also not anti-pop culture, and specifically, I am not anti-video games. In fact, I'm a pro-gamer if anything.
Johnson makes a pretty strong argument that much of what we call bad (night time soaps like ER, Hill Street Blues, Law & Order) actually requires our brains to become more engaged than classic, "quality" television like Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, or Gunsmoke. Conventional wisdom also holds that gaming rots the mind.
Video games have become an integral part of our recreation and some folks wonder if there are any benefits to all of this thumb-wielding, eye-rotting, mind-numbing activity. According to the Entertainment Software Association 65% of American households play some form of video games, the average age of a player is 35 and has been playing for 13 years. Keep that in mind - the average gamer has been at it for over a decade. With that much practice in most martial arts you would be a 3rd Degree Black Belt (just below Master). In 13 years of college you could have two separate four-year Bachelor's degrees, a masters, and a PhD.
The next time you are interviewing a candidate for a job opening, ask if they play any video games. For if they do, here are some of the skills they have built up during their "off hours."
- Problem solving - Most games begin with a few base assumptions and a specific goal (save the queen, acquire wealth, destroy the aliens, ...) but not much else. The player must figure out from context cues, trial and error, and experience how to navigate, analyze threats and opportunities to achieve stated or self-determine goals.
- Patience - Modern games take a long time to play. A game of Monopoly might take 4 hours. Today's video games require four hours to get familiar with the keyboard.
- Accepting setbacks - No one, and I mean no one traverses a video game without failure. Most gamers never achieve the final victory and yet they persevere night after night, trying one dead-end path after another, learning, become more skillful, gaining more ground. Adversity just doesn't have the negative impact it did on earlier generations.
- Teamwork - The notion that game playing is a solitary activity negates the presence of thousands of on-line forums, social circles, and of course on-line interactions during game playing. True, some games can be enjoyed alone, but even some of those involve social interactions between the actors.
- Leadership - Multiplayer games often involve leadership roles which change from person to person as the game activity changes. Players are respected for whatever role they play as all are needed for success.
Harvard Business Publishing, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Harvard University, recently said gamers are bottom-line oriented, understand the power of diversity, thrive on change, and see learning as fun.
If you are in a position to hire, look with glee upon the candidates who openly express their prowess on the console. They may not have the best tan, but they very well may have an exceptional mind.