Comments on

Everything Bad is Not Quite Good for You

Original entry posted: Tue Jun 6 19:09:06 2006

1149628034 @ EST

Tue Jun 6 17:07:14 2006"Seldom is the question asked, is our children learning from video games?"

Josh @ Mon Jun 5 16:39:21 2006 EST

I would tend to agree. I partially enjoy games because I find them more engaging than just plain television, I don't buy into entertainment as covert education (or brain building).

pseudonymous @ Tue Jun 6 15:09:06 2006 EST

I think games are indeed a sort of education.

I liked this especially:
It is one thing to be able to look at those games, and by extension the large part of our society's empty-headed entertainment product, and try to see what it says (or could say) about us as people. It is quite another to trumpet the games as a learning experience in and of themselves, which is what Opinion Journal (and ultimately Johnson or Gladwell) would have you do.

I think that when you look at what these games say about us as people, you can see that games are learning experiences of a sort, just not necessarily the laudable sort that Gladwell contends they are. What kinds of things are we being conditioned to think, expect, and enjoy when we play this or that game? What does it say that I'm rewarded by doing this or that? What does it mean that I'm willing to play this for thing for hours to unlock everything? What does it say that someone thought I would buy and play this?

I think the urge to applaud games as complex learning tools glosses over the substance of that learning, which your skeptical approach allows us to see. We are learning, being conditioned. Now what are we learning?

Troy Goodfellow @ Wed Jun 7 08:40:08 2006 EST

"If we don't teach our young citizens to think rather than merely process information, all the video-savvy in the world isn't going to save their sorry asses."

This is the big point in Edroso, I think, and is something missing from all the rosy predictions of gaming's educative power.

The most reliable gaming-benefit studies focus on problem solving and analysis of optimal paths, but they don't realize that games are fixed system with limited inputs. There is usually only one or two optimal solutions and, often, the point of the game is to succeed at the expense of a competitor.

Management in the "real world" usually involves irrationality, Pareto equilibriums and collective interests. It's not that gaming is useless in preparation for these challenges, but it's certainly not obviously superior to academic training or developing social skills.

Games are so often under attack that gamers often just accept the good opinions without much thought, as if all good thoughts can do no harm. The truth is that you can't do long-term studies on the effects of extended gaming until this generation is out and employed. And even then you have to disambiguate from all the other media claptrap going on, the fracturing of audiences, the new test-based educational priorities, the growing class divisions...

Sociology is hard.

Patrick @ Fri Jun 9 13:59:40 2006 EST

Hey this is in response to the Everything Bad is Good for You post, and a post from a while back about my Reimagining Challenge article and your demand for socially relevant games.

On the first point, I think theres some weight to Johnson's argument in terms of the mediums potential, but not nessecarily the majority of games produced, which he admits. When he makes his argument, the games he often cites are by Will Wright, Sid Meier (Civ IV being basically a re-vamp of that fifteen year old design) and I suppose Crawford, if he had heard of him (before you groan in reflex, Balance of Power was quite something for its time). No Cliffy B games are cited.

In regards to socially relevant games, have you played Super Columbine Massacre RPG? I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.

Thomas @ Fri Jun 9 14:00:03 2006 EST

But Johnson doesn't just argue for Civ, SimX, and other mental toys--assuming, again, that they teach anything that can't be learned just as well in another hobby. He's also explicitly citing (and I quote from his Wired piece) "...the spatial geometry of Tetris, the engineering riddles of Myst, or the urban mapping of Grand Theft Auto."

It's like saying "the spatial geometry of model train sets." Moreover, are these really the case? GTA teaches you how to move around a city--what about living in an actual city? Did Myst really teach engineering riddles? If so, Johnson played a different copy than I did. Maybe he bought the "IQ-Booster Second Edition."

It's not that I don't think they can't serve an educational purpose, as I said. But the implicit thesis of naming your book "Everything Bad is Good for You" is to justify all gaming as a strengthening experience.

Even assuming that it is strengthening, Edroso's (and by extension, my own) real contention with the argument is what is being strengthened. Congratulations: thanks to video games, we're better at managing lists and negotiating a user interface. But are you better at understanding what a video game might mean? Can you synthesize the non-systemic themes it might contain, and apply them to other areas of your life? Can you say thoughtful things about them, beyond a discussion of the controls and the mechanics (my major problem with most video game writing)? Or are you really just learning memorization, repetition, obsession, and collection? See pseudonymous's and Troy's comment in the original post.

And before you answer, consider: just because you might possess the high level analytical skills I'm trying to encourage, it doesn't mean that you got it because you are a gamer.

The RPG's pretty tasteless, frankly. I'm aware of the arguments that it's making a statement, and the statement it's making doesn't interest me. As far as I'm concerned, it's roughly equivalent to the United 93 movie--a fine line to do it with respect, and I don't honestly see signs that it can be interpreted that way without the author spending pages on rationalization. If nothing else, that's a failure of the art.

Yehuda Berlinger @ Wed Jul 5 02:22:25 2006 EST

Very good post.


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