Thursday, May 31, 2007

Serious Fun and Games

As you get older there is always one thing that younger people do that makes you think, “That would have been perfect for me. I would have loved that”. For me that thing is computer games. I’ve got kids so of course I’ve tried the odd one – crashed a few cars, chased some mean looking critters through the dark corridors of a castle, kicked a ball or two, but that’s pretty much it. I have never had the time you need to play intuitively and learn the wider language of games. Although, having said that, my session with Robin Harper of Second Life at Google Zeitgeist last week inspired even me to think I could make it...the trouble is my First Life is so much fun I don't want to leave it.

My goals have always been limited to winning (or rather not losing for as long as possible) rather than participating and exploring. I think my experience is typical of people of my age and it is important to acknowledge this and do something about it. We don’t all have to become Wii Masters, but knowing what you don’t know can often be more important than knowing what you do. Games are shaping the way we learn, transact, communicate. In the field of education this is a no-brainer. Already we can see how gaming can make learning more fun, more engaging, more committed and potentially more shared. Tell someone something, show someone something, let someone do something for themselves; this has always been the hierarchy of learning effectiveness, and games sit on top of that pyramid. It is fashionable for people to criticize games for the way they keep kids indoors, inside their rooms, inside their heads. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, I remember. My parents!

Games are challenging all our stereotypes. Teenage boys who need to get a life are outnumbered by… women? AdAge reported a while back that when women aged 55 to 64 were asked what their favorite leisure activity was, playing online games came in second. That was ahead of listening to music, watching DVDs and reading newspapers or magazines. TV just snuck in as number one. As women are way ahead in changing centuries-old patterns of behavior in every field, who can be surprised they are jumping on games? I guess it’s time I tried again to work out how the hell to stop that dragon incinerating me every time I get near it. I really want the treasure chest it’s sitting on.