The main purpose of this blog is to fill my Educ 504 Teaching with Technology requirement. However, I have been interested in the idea of blogging ever since my Dad told me I should start one about two years ago. This class has finally "jump-started" my blogging career. (Sorry Dad!)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Game is Mario Kart (N64 version) What's Yours?

As you can see from the title of this post, I play video games.  But honestly,

These days, every little kid I see on the street has one of those Nintendo DS handheld gaming systems.  Hooking up the wires to the TV was probably the only downside of playing video games, back in the day...  And that's the surprising thing:  I am considered "old" in the virtual world.  I am somewhat uncomfortable classifying myself as a "gamer" due to my lack of participation in the sudden outburst of virtual worlds and their respective characters and corresponding rules.  When I played on my old school Nintendo 64, I didn't think I was actually the character Mario in a red go-kart throwing green shells with amazing accuracy and targeting skills.  I was just controlling the go-kart and moving the joystick in the direction I wanted to "drive".

Today, gamers immerse themselves in virtual worlds with characters they are able to personalize and make their own.  In Jane McGonigal's TED talk, she focuses on these virtual worlds, and provides several interesting facts about the role that these virtual worlds have on people today. I say "people" because it seems as if the range of "gamers" is consistently expanding.  It's not just kids anymore.

Speaking of kids, there was a section in the assigned reading on "Good Videogames and Good Learning" by James Gee, that resonated like a gong in my memory cavity (p. 4-5).  For Educ 606, Education Behavioral Psychology, we are reading Nutureshock by Bronson & Merryman, and in their eighth chapter entitled, "Can self control be taught?", the authors cite a Russian study from the 1950s: "Children were told to stand still as long as they could - they lasted only two minutes.  Then a second group of children were told to pretend they were soldiers on guard who had to stand still at their posts - they lasted eleven minutes" (p. 166).  This study shows that we, as humans, are more capable of "playing" a role and accomplishing a task, than if we were just being ourselves and attempting that same task.  Bronson & Merryman included this study in their book to emphasize the importance of "high order abstract thinking" through role playing game plans in the Tools of the Mind program (p.167, 160, respectively).  This goes hand in hand with one of the many reasons why people enjoy playing video games (for hours and hours, too!).

A few of the most interesting points in McGonigal's TED talk was the way in which people interact with the virtual worlds, the amount of time people spend playing video games, and the possibilities these virtual games have in our future.  I totally understand that I like playing video games, but McGonigal sums it up the best, concisely stating why: "gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals".  We have super power abilities that we may not have in the real world.  We are the main player of the game - our view point is of our individual character and what we do is important to "winning" in the game.  And we are hopeful because we know there is an attainable goal since there wouldn't be a point to creating a game if it wasn't beatable.  Because of this known fact, we are hopeful that this time is when we will beat the boss level and move on to the next level, and then the next boss, and on, and on.

This brings me to McGonigal's main point of her TED talk - we need to make real life more like virtual worlds.  Now this is when I began my internal debate on humanity and if this notion is at all possible in the "real world".  I understand McGonigal's point that people can achieve more in video games than in real life.  This is also a reason why gamers spend so much, if not more, time in the virtual worlds than participating in the world around them.  But, that is not real life... (as my parents remind me about once a month now).  We can only "win" in virtual worlds because the rules are the same for everyone, but that's not the case here, in reality.  You can't "beat" at life.  You usually get "beat-down" on by life.

McGonigal provides a possible historic example of how games were used in the past to combat the ills of real world problems from the past: Herodotus of Lydia, where the people survived 18 years of famine by eating one day and playing games the next.  McGonigal confidently states: "We can do that."  But can we?  I may be seen as the "Negative Nancy" in the audience; however, I know that people will take care of themselves before others.  In Educ 606, we were given a lecture that addressed Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and I'm pretty sure that the most basic of needs (Physiological - food, sleep, sex) are considered more important than our need of belonging (love, affection, being a part of groups).  I mean, I've seen post-apocalyptic movie, "The Road" with Viggo Mortensen.  Have you?


So who wants to play some MARIO KART??  Seriously, I have it. 

 (It'sssa me!  A Mario!)


  1. Michelle - love the post! I very much love how you picked out some of the most important and humanistic parts of McGonigal's TED Talk. I love how she framed our investment in games as a positive thing, that we have a positive view on things in the gaming world, but that they just don't often transfer over to real life because the goals we are told to achieve just simply aren't attainable. I also loved how you tied part of the talk and Gee's paper to what we have been learning in 606. I too noticed the connections. If there are such parallels then, why haven't we been using video games more extensively in our educational practices? (Feel free to actually take a stab at this question if you think you have something of an answer. Otherwise feel free to look at it as a rhetorical question!)

    I'm down for some Mario Kart, but I also have N64 and can my Kirby can just about anybody's a** in Super Smash Bros! Or Mario Party. Or anything really. Let's get a group together and go to the gaming room in the Dude after class tomorrow! Seriously.

  2. Dear Negative Nancy,
    Games are fun. Fun is distracting... Wait... Ok, now I'm hungry.

    Look, I think you bring up an interesting point: Games are fun because they are beatable. Life isn't beatable.

    I both agree and disagree with you. (I have commitment issues) The rules constantly change in life. Many of the rules are non-sensical and unfair and, at times, arbitrary. Life lacks the structure of the game world. Particularly compared with Mario Kart 64. However, when life is compared to World of Warcraft the differences in complexity fade away. Yes, natural laws (such as they are in a magical fantasy-land) are static and unchangeable. But, the social dynamics are every bit as complex as life. If life is unfair, it is in this regard. The times I remember when I've felt been beaten down by life it has been because of another human, not a law or rule. There are dicks in both the real and virtual worlds.

    But, do we stop living when times get tough? Do we stop playing a game when it gets tough? Sometimes. But that's the epic adventure of life. I think what McGonigal wants is for virtual life to directly inform the real world and vice versa. In this way we would shift the commonly held view that video games are a waste of time to a more inclusive definition that embraces all the benefits that gaming offers, and apply them to solve the world's ills. It may be a little kum-ba-ya but, I still think it's a neat idea.

  3. I love reading your blog, Michelle! I loved that you talked about the history that McGonigal discussed about Herodotus. I also questioned whether or not we could do the same things now. I love that you pulled in Maslow's theory, but I think there is another factor at play nowadays. Our ability to multitask has grown. I see "kids these days" texting, eating, doing homework, (hopefully not driving), playing Words with Friends, and listening to music/watching tv, all simultaneously. Would a day of gaming actually be enough to distract us anymore? We are getting so used to constant stimuli that it takes more and more to keep our attention. I don't think spending a day playing games would keep our minds off our hunger. I also think that McGonigal is researching a less literal adaptation of this history and I think she will come up with some brilliant ideas!

  4. I would never have pegged you for a "gamer"! I used to play Mario Kart all the time when I was younger. N64 was my life! I had Gauntlet and Starfox too. I stopped playing video games around sixteen though. I think that people spend far too much time playing video games nowadays. I know people who come home from work at five or six and sit on the computer doing...... whatever it is you do on WOW until they go to bed and then repeat.

    I'm not going to sit here and say that we could possibly avoid living an online, high tech life given how global everything has become. I do agree though that we all have such a low attention spans now given the insane amount stimuli we have. Hmmm maybe we shouldn't have three hour classes every single day. I know we have to though.