Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Gamed Pew Study

There has been a recent Pew study that speaks favourably of how games affect children. Yields more civic engagement is what a lot of people are taking from this. I know this has made a lot of indignant gamers and game developers thoroughly thrilled. Their lives have now been justified, nay vindicated, after all the FUD about games spread by politicians and the media.

However, stop for a moment to consider that the study found this was the case for kids playing games with "civic gaming experiences," moments that mirror civic behavior. So do you think games with such experiences motivate kids to go out and have those experiences? I don't. I think games deliver more endorphins than the reality of civic engagement.

They do show a correlation that kids having these gaming experiences are definitely doing more civic things than kids who don't, but my question is what is the absolute value of time, not the relative amount. Their time is disappearing at an alarming rate into games.

What disturbs me is how often kids are playing games now. The study points out that 99% of boys and 94% of girls are playing games now. It certainly beats TV, but unfortunately, it is also far more addictive.

Gaming as a form of entertainment no longer comes in the half-hour, hour, or two-hour chunks afforded by shows and features. A single game can soak, days, weeks, months, even years of your life now, because the gameplay mechanics are getting so compelling.

And this is going to get worse. Procedural content is getting more and more mature. This means games are going to have near limitless potential for exploration, or put another way, will be able to completely dominate a child's life with little danger of getting stale.

Games have become replacement baby sitters, and I think this, coupled with our poor education, poor parenting, poor diets, and poor healthcare, means that our gross domestic productivity is going to be in trouble as this generation attempts to flail its way into the workforce without any marketable skills that might have blossomed, had they developed a hobby more useful to society.

I really like ambitious people and kids in particular, and I am always excited to hear their dreams. What depresses me, however, is the typical kid who is excited to talk to me about game development, because he wants to be a game designer someday. When I ask what sorts of things he's done to prepare for that, the answer is usually, "I play a ton of ." This is usually followed by the pitch for their dream game, which is a largely unproducable amalgam such as Grand Theft Auto meets Halo meets World of Warcraft.

I believe there is hope, however. I would welcome government programs incentivizing developers to embed educational material inside of addictive games. Games have proven that they can engage people more consistently and often more powerfully than most any other medium. And it's true that they help educate systems, tactics, strategy, reflexes, puzzle-solving skills, but this is a pretty inefficient education, considering the vast amount of time they're spending playing games.

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