According to Entertainment Software Associations study in 2011 (via Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal)
- 69 percent of all heads of household play computer and video games
- 97 percent of youth play computer and video games
- 40 percent of all games are women
- One out of four gamers is over the age of fifty
- The average game player is thirty-five years old and has been playing for twelve years
- Most gamers except to continue playing games for the rest of their lives
And this is just digital games. With 97% of the youth gaming, in a couple of decades, everyone is a gamer. Despite this, gaming is often seen as a negative thing. However, think about it this way: People have a limited amount of time. What are they not doing anymore in order to game? I don’t have data (and I don’t know if anyone does), but I’d be willing to bet most of the time spent on gaming used to be spent on watching TV.
Now, these two forms of entertainment have a pretty significant difference. Watching TV is passive, whereas playing games is active. So, even if you happen to be in the small minority that actually watches intelligent programming like documentaries, you are still only receiving information instead of actually going out and finding it yourself. While gaming, you actively try to figure out how achieve the best result based on the rules and the feedback. You are actually using your brain. Even if this is something quite simple, you are still honing some skill.
Since most skills (well, quite a few, at least) are in some way useful in the real life, this change is overall quite beneficial to the mankind. Depending on what kind of skills you are honing, they could be used for a number of things.
The definition of a game is pretty loose (and I’ll probably write about that on a later date), since they are hard to define, but one definition a game should have the following components (again, via McGonigal):
1. A goal
3. Systematic feedback
4. They are voluntary
I’m not sure this is the perfect definition, but its something we can work with. Now, lets say, our problem is to solve the unemployment problem. By setting the goals right (not just eliminating the statistical numbers, but the actual problems caused by lack of jobs or underpaying jobs), and have a system to give us the right feedback, we could find gamers who could find the solution. This is what we do. This is what we have spent (in many cases) most of our lives doing.
Although gaming is fun, it is also (probably because it is fun) the key to our future.
Now, I’ve only read 25 or so pages of the aforementioned book by McGonigal. She’ll probably have a lot of viewpoints which I’ll probably discuss in length in the future.
McGonigal is pretty optimistic in her views. I’m a bit more sceptical about gamers’ superpowers.
I assume that a lot of casual gamers are just that: they don’t actively hone their skills and try to beat the game. It’s more like a toy for them, not a brain excercise. Most of the present-day best-selling titles aren’t exactly challenging games (like they used to be). And even those gamers who train their skills do that within a certain system made of unbreakable rules. It’s not so much about thinking outside the box but within it. Therefore I’m not sure if they are automatically qualified to solve real-life problems. Gaming skills might help when honing our social security system, but tackling the unemployment problem calls for something else.
All in all, McGonigal reminds me of people who tried to whitewash roleplaying during the moral panic. Back then the claim was that roleplaying makes people more emphatic, cooperative and better in English. No surveys were presented back then, and the little we have doesn’t support these claims. I hope McGonigal is different, but I’m afraid not.
I think the number one problem with games is that unlike the games I grew up with, the newer games are often designed to hold the interest of the gamer for extended periods of time. Therefore, you don’t move from game to game anymore, so you don’t necessarily acquire a set of sklls.
On the other hand, even this limited activity is better than passivity. Angry Birds might not be very complicated, but it will still be better for the brain than TV. I can’t find the study right now, but even regular Tetris helped elderly people avoid dementia. The fact that everyone in the future generations will have this kind of an advantage. It might not be huge, but I’ll take anything I can.