Fantasy, Reality, Dreams – Part II

A guest post by Skadhu from Microfishing In The World Pool.

Did you miss Fantasy, Reality, Dreams – Part I ? To recap, Skadhu started discussing in her first post the assumptions which are made about gaming and gamers including:

  • Gaming is bad for you because you’re always sitting at a computer.
  • Gamers are dangerously obsessive about their activities.
  • Gamers should engage with real people in real environments instead of escaping into a fantasy world.
  • Games are violent and make kids violent.
  • Games are a waste of time—they don’t teach you anything, and at worst make you more stupid.

Continuing Skadhu’s discussion on the topic . . .

Games are a waste of time—they don’t teach you anything, and at worst make you more stupid.

barkinginthedark said:

i’ll wager that books educate more than virtual reality games. to make use of a book one must know how to read…understand language – which is a sign of intelligence, and one that is diminished sharply by these games. continue…

Well, some games do use written language. The RP I played in SL was all executed in text chat. Although voice/audio chat was possible, the admin group chose not to use it because it was actually easier to maintain the narrative illusions created when you didn’t have contradictions between avatar appearances and voices. So facility with written language—and more, a creative, fast-thinking facility—was necessary in order to do the RP.

As far as the use of language being an indication of intelligence… I’m a reader. I’ve been a reader all my life. Gaming has not affected this. I LOVE reading, and I do far more of it than gaming. I love written language.

Yes, being able to understand written language is a sign of intelligence—IF you’ve been taught to read. Plenty of people haven’t, or haven’t been taught effectively, so reading ability can’t always evaluate native intelligence levels.

But there’s an implicit assumption in the way that criticism of gaming is phrased that the ability to read, to use a written language code, is the only way to judge intelligence (and exercise it), or at least the best way. I would disagree with that. I think reading is a great way to exercise your intelligence and stretch your brain, but it’s not the only one.

Wallpaper from the Riven Ages © Cyan Worlds, Inc.

For example, I’ll go back to the old Myst games. As I’ve mentioned, they’re puzzles. HARD puzzles. They are not based on written language, because that would limit the audience to speakers of a particular language. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy. They’re set up like this: you have to explore an environment and observe. Practically speaking, you also have to make notes. Lots of notes, written and drawn. This is because somewhere (for example) there’s an image on a wall that’s a clue to solving the first part of a puzzle in an entirely different location in the game, and it’s a visual clue relating to a certain sound sequence, and then you have to logically connect it with the arrangement of trees in a different location, or…

In order to solve the puzzles you have to engage a lot of high-order skills. You have to observe, note, analyze, and then put together disparate pieces of information, ranging from visual to spatial to auditory, in complex logical ways… all in order to do something like open a door.

So the Myst games, and others of that type (which are enormously popular), are intellectually stimulating and challenging, even though they don’t use written language at all.

I don’t see it as a problem when I move from a language-based environment that stimulates me to an environment that stimulates me in other ways. I actually think it’s an advantage, as it exercises different parts of my brain.

Next, I’d challenge the assumption that written language is the best way to learn. It’s certainly how I learn a lot of things. But although I’m not familiar with details or the research, I’m also aware of the theory that people learn in different ways (learning styles theory and cognitive style theory). I tend to think that this idea is valid, based on my own experience. I learn different things in different ways. For example, recently I’ve been exploring a big park with lots of trails. I only started to get a sense of how all the trails fitted together when I finally got hold of a map—for me, verbal descriptions didn’t work. Even walking the trails didn’t work. I needed a non-verbal visualization to internalize those spatial relationships. Years ago, I tried to learn how to roll a canoe. The process was described to me verbally. It was hopeless—the only part I ever learned was first half (the part where you go from upright to upside down under water). I finally realized that it was because most of my learning for physical activities had a visualization component. In this case I was unable to visualize the process in 3 dimensions, so I got my best results when I didn’t think about it and just followed the verbal directions.

What I’m getting at is that learning techniques are variable—no one size fits everyone, and no one size is likely to fit anyone in every situation.

I do think that there are serious issues around new technologies making us stupid. But on the whole, I think one of the greatest threats to intelligence is multi-tasking and distraction, and there’s research to back me up on that:

The Myth of Multitasking

Attached to Technology and Paying a Price

[Click on links to go to articles]

Personally, I’ve observed a significant drop in students’ abilities to follow directions over the past few years, and it has a lot more to do with web surfing and Facebook and Twitter activity in class than gaming.

Finally, the question of whether gaming can teach us anything.

As I have said in comments on other posts, I think that the creative aspects of gaming often get overlooked. And as gaming software becomes more sophisticated the possibilities for creativity become wider. Virtual worlds have begun to give people the opportunities to explore these aspects of online activity, because they don’t define what people must do but provide the tools that enable people to create their own environments and the contents within them. Second Life allows you to build anything you can imagine, and use scripting to make it interactive. As technology develops I would expect some of these options for creativity to expand from environments to games as well, creating richer, more engaging, and more creative gaming experiences overall.

This is Baba Yaga’s house. I built it in the virtual world of Second Life—I also built everything else you can see in the image, including the mountains. Oh, except for the trees—those I purchased from a builder who specializes in gardens and nature.

Games and education

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Second Life isn’t a game, but an environment. Educators are doing a lot of exploring and experimenting in SL and similar virtual worlds. I’m aware of some of what’s going on because a few years ago I was doing funded research on the topic, though my knowledge is not entirely up to date now because I’ve moved on to other things.

At any rate, educators are fascinated by the ability to create environments and interactive experiences, and are only beginning to tap their potential. Classes are actually being held in Second Life with a good deal of success.

Now virtual worlds are not for everyone; some people don’t like them and don’t want them as part of their learning environments. But they can be VERY effective as educational tools for some students, in some contexts. There is a sense of immersion that is very compelling, and that probably contributes to their success, as is the ability to create content and interact with others and the environment in a range of interesting ways.

The ability to create content puts power in the hands of users and opens up all kinds of opportunities. You can create interactive experiences, even learning games within these environments—I know, because I’ve done it.

It’s possible to do things in virtual worlds that can’t possibly be done in the real world, since you aren’t subject to the physical laws that normally constrain us. I’ve taken a ride through a huge 3D teaching model of a chunk of human anatomy. One instructor has had students explore issues around body image and how it is constructed by media by changing their avatar appearance—and then their avatar’s gender. One instructor’s report on his activities in SL is titled, “Using Virtual Worlds to get students to think in full sentences”—he explains that the requirement for communicating through text chat actually ended up improving exam scores. And on and on. If you’re interested, check out these sites:

RezEd: http://rezedhub.ning.com/

Second Life Education: http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Second_Life_Education

New Media Consortium  http://virtualworlds.nmc.org/

Now, virtual worlds aren’t games, but they share many of the same characteristics. And even games, which one would assume are more limited in scope, are also being use educationally—for example World of Warcraft (a game I’ve never played).

http://wowinschool.pbworks.com/w/page/5268731/FrontPage

All of which is to say that there is some really interesting stuff going on in terms of gaming/virtual worlds and education. No one knows quite where it will go at this point, but it can’t be written off as just something that makes you stupid.

So…

Are games awful and a signifier of the end of life as we know it?

Nope. No more than anything else. The thing about them is this: they’re new, emergent technologies. We don’t quite know how they work. We don’t quite know how they will affect us. That makes them scary.

New technologies change things. We tend to be conservative when we react to them. Partly it’s fear of the unknown (omg teh horror!), partly it’s fear of things changing (the youth of the world will be corrupted if Elvis’ hips are shown on TV) and partly it’s sheer exhaustion (I finally understand why my parents never figured out how to program the VCR). Look back at old technologies and the discussion around them when they were new—you’ll hear similar worries. It’s hard to sort out the reflexive fears of new things from real concerns that we actually should worry about.

Are games the best thing since sliced bread?

Nope. None of what I’ve said means that games and gaming shouldn’t be critiqued. They should. Every new technology brings Bad Things as well as Good Things. We need to figure out what the bad things are, and compensate for them. At their best, digital games are stimulating and creative. At their worst, they’re—well, crap.

So as with everything else, we have to learn to sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s easy to get excited about the potential virtual worlds and other forms of new media offer, but I do think that it’s important to remember that these aren’t mature technologies. We don’t know where they’re going to go. I expect astonishing things to happen in the future as online technologies develop. That doesn’t mean everyone has to play games, or use them for serious purposes—they provide pleasure and benefits for some people and not for others—just like all other activities—and that’s fine.

And finally

Hi. I’m Peri, Skadhu’s partner. We cemented our budding relationship playing co-op Diablo online. The whole thing was my fault, I seduced her to the dark side, I even bought her a copy of the game and mailed it to her at international rates. I am Teh Evul.

Games, computer games specifically, are no more stupid or childish or unproductive than any other recreational activity ever devised. Any and all criticisms you have ever heard levelled at computer games has been levelled at every single one of those other activities, including art, including writing,  including gardening, including hanging out with your friends, including sitting quietly and minding your own business.

Gaming gets criticized on ultimately the same grounds as any other activity that does not produce wealth for one’s betters: because it does not, wait for it, are you ready? yesyesyes, produce wealth for one’s betters. It’s self-indulgent, and that is the ultimate sin. For if we indulge ourselves, we might notice that we have selves to indulge, for one, and for two, that our selves have likes and dislikes. Our selves have preferences. Our individual selves actually do like certain things, and dislike others, and these are not always the same things as other people’s selves like or dislike.

It’s bloody hard to demand better lives for oneself or one’s family, until you first know what you want, and how what you like is missing from your life. What its shape is. And every form of recreation devised has been criticized so, that in expanding your horizons, in showing you the shape of your missing desires, it thus enables you to insist, specifically, on those very things.

Gaming is empowering, in the same way as reading for pleasure, or hanging out with your friends, or gardening. Gaming teaches you to know what you want, what you like, what the world looks like when the bad guys are put in their place and the good guys divvy the loot. How things can be when everyone isn’t trying to kill each other, which is the real world, but instead works together to solve problems, right wrongs, and how nice it feels to do that. Instead of saying, “Oh, that’s just how you have to go along to get along,” in games, like in books, except with more you, you can instead smack the crap out of the evil baron. And think later, there’s more than one boss monster in your own life; how would it be to take them on, and what would winning look like here?

Games teach you that, not only is it possible to win, but that it is imperative that you try.

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Categories: Guest Bloggers, Random

Author:lisa@notesfromafrica

I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)

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5 Comments on “Fantasy, Reality, Dreams – Part II”

  1. February 22, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Another excellent post! Although not a gamer – I can fully appreciate the arguments for and against any form of recreation. Ultimately, we choose how to spend our time and hope that we spend it wisely.

    • February 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

      Thanks, Lu. Hoping I spend my time wisely is something I do in every context, with varying results!

  2. February 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Great, persuasive arguments. I couldn’t agree more! I really enjoyed this. Thank you!

    • February 23, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

      Thank you! I had immense fun writing it.

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