Will Gaming Save the World?

Game designer, Jane McGonigal, in her TEDtalk, said:

Right now we spend three billion hours a week playing online games. Some of you might be thinking, “That’s a lot of time to spend playing games.” Maybe too much time, considering how many urgent problems we have to solve in the real world. But actually, according to my research, at The Institute For The Future, it’s actually the opposite is true. Three billion hours a week is not nearly enough game play to solve the world’s most urgent problems.

And she says that we need to up that to twenty one billion hours a week in order to save the world.

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What do you think?


One response to “Will Gaming Save the World?

  1. Will and others,

    This is definitely not your everyday kind of talk! And it is certainly a kind of talk that seems highly controversial, especially given that many people see gamers as lazy people who refuse to confront the real world (as opposed to other people who want and need an escape every now and then but still realize that they cannot live life with a total escape from the real world), who refuse to get a “real job,” who feel that life is supposed to be all play and no work. I would not be surprised that some gamers do indeed fit this description, especially since I know some who do seem to fit this description very well (no, I’m not talking about anyone at Kaplan; the ones I’m referring to are ones I have known for many years). But they do spend virtually all their time playing games, and others have a lot of trouble trying to get them to do anything else, even if it is something that will take only 15 minutes or less. And that does go to show that any passion can be taken too far.

    However, I do see that gaming has benefits. Perhaps you can probably see that without me having to say that explicitly, but it is a habit of mine that was fostered by others in math education debates online who automatically conclude right up front that if I see problems with an approach to teaching and learning, I must therefore see absolutely no benefit to that approach. For instance, my comments on saying that traditional math education overemphasizes drilling and memorization and computation have been met by others who have automatically assumed that I want to get rid of drilling and memorization and computation altogether! So I suppose that a wife who complains that her husband works too much must really be complaining about the fact that he cannot spend 100% of his time at home? I think not, yet those people are clearly using that same kind of bad logic (the irony is that many of them are so-called “mathematicians,” who are supposed to be experts with logic!).

    Back to gaming. But gaming does come with a warning with any resource we have in the world: It is possible to take it too far, to depend on it too much, to fail to learn to use it in ways that actually help us, etc. The latter reminds me of traditional ways of learning math: Learning math has benefits, but traditional thinking about learning math often fails to get students to learn math in ways that actually help them! For instance, a benefit I see to learning some computations on paper is that arithmetic algorithms illustrate mathematical reasoning and mathematical ideas that arise in arithmetic, but that benefit comes only if algorithms are taught meaningfully. As long as emphasis continues to lie on “doing them” rather than on the logic and meaning behind them, students get little benefit from learning them.

    Likewise, learning problem solving in mathematics has benefits, too, but if we try to reduce problem solving to just following recipes, that’s all we will get: Students who either cannot do any math of any kind or can solve only those standard problems in textbooks and no others. Believe me: I have seen scores of students panic when confronted with a problem that does not look exactly like a worked example or homework problem in their textbooks. This is true even among students whose grades look good. And many other math educators have reported similar problems as well, not just me. Hmmm…sounds like traditional American math education has missed the boat in many ways.

    If gamers are to be a valuable resource for the future, they will need to learn to adapt their skills to the real world. This analogy has been observed by math educators when it comes to learning mathematics, and many try to correct this problem with traditional American math education. They rightfully see a problem with many students who cannot do mathematics that is not just like classroom and textbook mathematics. Likewise, in education in general, there are many complaints about students not learning to transfer whatever skills they learn to new situations and not learning to link new concepts and ideas with something they already know.

    Unfortunately, we cannot make the world like a game just as we cannot make real world mathematics just like classroom mathematics. The real world is far more complex than any game or classroom scenario depicts. Also changing the world into one like a game requires changing human nature. And we certainly don’t know the secret to that! And we don’t know the secret to changing the world so that everyone acts predictably and that consequences of our actions are always certain and always consistent. Yes, I would love to live in a world like that, but we can’t change reality into a world like that–except only in our imaginations.

    I also wonder if many of these gamers really do have the social skills that she is talking about because there is a world of difference between interacting with others virtually and in person. Some people do indeed feel a lot more comfortable talking online than in person. In certain ways, I do because I’m not concerned about mannerisms of mine turning people off because they can’t see them! I do see a problem with learning to interpret body language and tone of voice, but we cannot learn these things very well if most of our interaction with others is online. Furthermore, professionals will find it difficult to function if the only people they can talk to effectively are those with similar interests, yet gamers spend the vast majority of their time interacting with others who are like them! In other words, this is similar to a mathematician trying to learn to communicate mathematics with the general public by focusing almost all his or her time communicating with just mathematicians!

    Of course, this is not to say that gamers have no social skills. No doubt that many are probably very good with in-person interactions. Others might not be, but they still have some skill in that, but they might not really be as fluent with social skills as we would like to see. If you want someone with strong overall social skills that carry over to almost any social situation, you can find plenty of people who are much better at that than I am.

    Jonathan Groves

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