Just one of the many reasons games are important is supposedly education and training. But games almost never correctly train you in what they ostensibly are supposed to: SimCity doesn't prepare you for a career of urban planning, Civilization doesn't prepare you for a career of world leader, Guitar Hero doesn't prepare you to be a rock guitarist. I heard the term "negative training" from a Full Spectrum Warrior guy - meaning a lot of games actually teach you bad habits. A lot of first person shooters, for example, teach you to run around your enemy in circles, jumping, while you wildly shoot at them. Probably not great practice for a soldier in the field.
So if games aren't great at teaching specifics, what's the point?
The point is, let's call it meta-learning: learning how to learn. Training in the process of learning. I have only anecdotal evidence for this belief, but I think that people raised on a diet of videogames are better at picking up new skills than those who weren't. All of those skills I learned to amateur level...typing, writing, guitar playing, surfing, coding (oh, hey, that one I went pro)...all stem back to playing Defender on the Atari 2600.
Recently read George Leonard's *Mastery* which is all about the process of getting good at something. Gamers learn a lot of what he preaches, in the field:
- Practice, practice, practice. People who play videogames know that what looks like an impossible challenge today (the expert level on Guitar Hero?) will be doable months down the road.
- Various kinds of mentoring: read the FAQ, ask your friends, get a teacher. I'm a "read the FAQ" type, mostly, myself. Although some consider hintbooking cheating I usually find when I need to consult a FAQ it's not my fault, it's the game's. I have two books on surfing, speaking of skills you can't learn from books. They did help, a little.
- Breaking out of a local minima - getting off a plateau - means you might get worse for a while as you change your approach. (Switching from all downstrokes to up-down - another Guitar Hero example.)
Something that's occuring to me just now, another thing games teach:
- Keep score. Measure your progress. Leaderboards are useful not only because you're competing with everyone else but also because you're competing with yourself, the old you.
This is something I might not have really put into words before, but I knew it on some level, because even with surfing I'd count the number of waves I'd caught in a day.
But one thing Leonard's book talks about that videogames didn't prepare me for:
- Love the plateau.
Leonard describes the "hack" - the guy who gets good enough at something to get by, hits a plateau, and then gets bored and looks for something else to learn. Hm. Sounds familiar. Could videogames be to blame, here? I think so - though some of the videogames of my youth may teach patience (you have to play the whole game over to get to the level you're having trouble with - talk about practice, practice, practice - if the game doesn't get slowly burned into muscle memory that way, I don't know what'll do it), the videogames of today are engineered to give you the illusion of progress whether or not you're actually getting better. And there's more than enough games out there - if I get stuck, and gamefaqs isn't any help, I can just turn to a different game.
So there's the quote for the anti-gamers to take out of context. Despite that one wart on games-as-training-trainers, I'll stick to my guns and say, on the whole, a Good Thing. In fact, one thing that games have going for them that other media don't - even a bad game will teach these sorts of lessons. Even a bad game usually has a way of keeping score; a bad game will usually have strategies that are tougher to learn but allow you to reach new levels of skill; a bad game will act as a reminder that practice and patience will see you through. So there's some value in even playing bad games. (Though no reason to play a bad game when there's so many good ones out there.) But watch a bad movie...you've just wasted your time.