Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Are computer games better than life? a reflection

 Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.
Michael Jordan


Like many growing up in the late 70s and early 80s bright boxy video games were a favourite way to escape from the tribulations of adolescence. They shaped my view of the world. But so did the novels I read, the late night deep and meaningful conversations, the big ideas raised in school, the ubiquitous hormone induced arguments I had with my parents and the hours daydreaming in my treehouse . David Perry in his TED talk elevates the role of video games to the status of some god-like omniscient being that has shaped the generations since Pong and space invaders landed in our lounge rooms. And created what?…

Before I say any more you might like to view the whole talk here…

Before you think me a techno-luddite, I confess to being a gamer myself who recently has joined World of Warcraft after starting with its far superior younger cousin, Lego Universe. I agree with Perry that games have (or will have) the power to move us creatively and emotionally. They do have the potential to engage us fully in increasigly real-world issues in ways that model consequentiality, reflection, community and imagination. A potential. Not a consistent reality. Also. it’s impossible to ignore the economic statistics Perry revisits – computer/video games are a growing force in the world’s economy that, contrary to public opinion, appeals to women and young adults far more than we think.

Yet I am troubled by his talk.

Well, its not the self-confessed ‘addict’ whose powerful life-story evokes the pain/joy of gaming that upsets me – I can relate to so much of it. If anything the honest addictive aspects drew me in to reflect more deeply. My issue is with the field of games her drew on, the examples, the content of the presentation. All the games that he presented were combative, aggressive and violent. (Yes, he remarks about not many games having adult content, but what did me mean by that?) Games, for whatever reason, seem stuck in this ‘Defeat something, get something’ model. Richer stories that dabble in character and cinematography seems to make this more palatable. Whilst the graphics and cinematic qualities are phenomenal, why is it that the discourse of this pinnacle of art is all about me and my mates getting things? If games are so creative, so powerful, so god-like why are they so stuck?

Now, again, remember I play games and enjoy them but am questioning about the values they present. For me, games are at their best when they allow people to connect and forge friendships. They are awesome when they are strong allegories. They are epic when the skills and perspectives gained within them transfer to the outside world. (Do driving games make you a better driver? Do basketball games make you a better gamer? Do ‘Gangsta’ games make you a better abuser of women?! WTF?!) This is why the new generation of games needs to evoke our emotions and cause us to question our fundamental self-cherishing notions. Games like Quest Atlantis remove combat altogether, choosing the conflict to be in the arena of ignorance vs wisdom. But how many do that?

So, as this blog post was part of my training in 3D Gamelab, it might be prudent to reflect on how this TED talk might impact on my use of this new methodology. Here’s the thing, when I discovered Gamelab, I was so excited. Racing through the initial quests there was early success and, proud of my achievements, I posted my scorecard on Facebook, tagging my fellow Facebooking Gamelabbers in it to roar of my XP and slap their faces playfully with my virtual glove.

Finding myself waking at 4am to complete more quests and stay ahead of my colleagues was an alarm that something was a but askew. Later I would sneak away at lunch time to squeeze in more questing time. Meanwhile morning teas and conversations happened around me. People sought help for various personal crises and I was barely there to hear. What began as a means of exploring game-based learning became a full on assault on beating the game.¬† Thus Competition wrestled with Curiosity for control. (By the way, this blog was written at 7am on a Saturday morning so I’m not out of the woods yet…)

Where in game-based learning is a recognition of a space to stop and get perspective. Why the constant rush to move on? Can the games reward pressing STOP or even PAUSE rather than having the thumb on PLAY all of the time? Or even worse, SHOOT. Is there more to be learned in not playing for a time?

Anyway, big questions aside. It’s 8am. I’m off to work out my frustration in WoW with Milarepa my 13th level Dranei Shaman. or I could meditate…

*sigh* Choices, choices. This time, I’ll press STOP.


  1. Love, love, love this post and your reflections, Steven! You ask wonderful questions, I’m not sure I know THE answer, but over time, I have come to some answers for myself.

    I enjoy games that provide a variety of options for the player, depending on the player’s interest, personality, what their goals are at the current time. So, in WoW, I may go slow and do my tradecrafting or just hang out the in the pub roleplaying with friends. Or, I could be a very aggressive player who enjoys competing in arena or pvp. Or perhaps I enjoy the social aspect of doing raids once per week with my regular guildmates.

    I’ve found that my interests can change over time, as well. I’ll leave games for six months, return, re-engage, and then leave again. I’ve definitely experienced that initial “addiction” you’ve mentioned, but I’ve never felt like I did it to get more points, badges, etc. For me, it’s always been about wanting to get stronger, be better, so I may become intense for awhile while I’m immersing myself in the experience. Eventually it wanes.

    Have you read “Why Talent is Overrated?” I found it to be a fascinating book, and it helped me better understand how someone becomes a world class performer, and has been influencing my thinking about curriculum design. I think there is a certain personality type (innovator/early adopter) that is drawn to immerse heavily in new things, new experiences, new technologies. I definitely perceive you as an early adopter.

    So a question I have is, “Is it the game design/mechanics or the personality that creates that drive to do more, more, more?” And is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just something we need to be aware of through reflection so we meta-cognitively understand what is happening?

  2. Ah Steven I couldn’t agree more. This is a truly insightful reflection and raises so many questions I’m sure there is a PhD in there somewhere.
    I feel privileged to work alongside and learn from you. Keep them coming.

    The skeptic in me Lisa makes me think it is the game designer too blame and I use “blame” loosely. I’m not a blamer and really denounce the blame game. Game designers are just milking the game market where the coin is at and at present that is with first person shooters / violence. Until someone proves that games can actually have a measurable improvement in one’s ability to perform a real world task then I doubt people will change their purchase behaviour away from entertainment/violent games.
    At the same time we can’t “design” for the lowest common denominator at the expense of others, hopefully there is a middle ground. Perhaps that is where “Gaming Educators” can force a wedge in the market.

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