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!)