Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More on How Playing Games Can Increase Your Employment Marketability

I would probably take fewer than two minutes of perusing the archives of this website for even the most dense person to deduce that I am an avid lover of games of all types. I am a ludophile extraordinaire. I'm the type of person who reads that the CEO of Spirit Airlines owns over 1700 board games and asks himself,"hmmm... Do I have that many?" The answer to which will vary depending on whether you get to count Role Playing Games, Board Game Expansions, and Card Games. It varies even more if you count each product within a Role Playing Game line as "one game" or as individual games in the equation. In other words, my answer might be -- depending on the initial criteria for the variables -- "Yes, I own as many games as the CEO of Spirit Airlines." Sadly, without the paycheck of said CEO.

It should be noted that Mr. Baldanza, the CEO I am referring to, has owned over 3000 games -- and currently owns approximately 2000 -- according to his BoardGameGeek Profile. I trust his profile more than the New York Times as he -- unlike me -- appears to have time to actually update his profile. My profile significantly underestimates my game collection and I really ought to get to work making my profile accurate. Though the fact that Mr. Baldanza's profile is actually updated may provide a clue why Spirit Airlines receives so many customer complaints -- just sayin'.

I also own a fair collection of video games ranging from the Atari 2600 era to the modern 360 era with a couple of stops over in PC land.

All of this is to say that if anyone would be excited to read articles regarding how playing games increases your value as a potential hire, it would be me. So when I read articles, like this one from the Washington Post discussing Changing the Game: How Video Games are Transforming the Future of Business, I read them with a pretty open mind (especially when the book can be purchased for my Kindle 2 in seconds while writing a blog entry) -- maybe too open. Add to this that the CEO of Spirit Airlines thinks that certain games provide real world skills that can be applied to running an airline, and one can see how it might be easy to get excited about how all that time I've been playing games hasn't been wasted time. And if 97% of teens spend time playing video games, it might help worried parents to discover that their kids are also developing some useful skills while beating Guitar Hero: Metallica or setting up a World of Warcraft raid.

There are reasons to believe that playing games can be beneficial in developing a variety of skills -- social and otherwise, but one should always keep in mind that not all games are created equal. Candyland is a great gateway game that is one of the best ways to introduce children to the norms of gameplay, and the fact that who wins the game is completely random can be a tool to teach young people how to be gracious when they lose a game. Learning that losing isn't the end of the world by learning that sometimes winning is impossible, can be a wonderful experience for children. Especially, when the outcome of the game is "hidden" and that the only way to find the result is to actually finish the game. Candyland teaches how to lose, how to persevere when things look glum, and that winning doesn't make you a better person. Candyland's approach, with winners and losers, is a far better way to teach self-esteem (and its limits) than the modern "no losers," "no conflict," "no touching," and "no dodgeball" movement that seems to be pedagogically popular.

All that said, Candyland isn't the best game to teach a young person mathematical skills, or how to look at challenges critically and logically, or how to develop deductive skills. Games like Settlers of Catan, Chess, and Clue are much better for these skills. And you can also learn many of Candyland's lessons through physical sports which have the added benefit of being good exercise as well. If you want to maximize the benefit of playing games, then one would imagine you might want to play a "balanced diet" of games.

Recent research has also demonstrated that young people who play video games are less likely to experience depression than those who spend time watching television. This is good news indeed for parents who worry about their Prince of Persia obsessed tyke might become a lonely couch potato. Video games, and games in general, are active experiences. But studies like the one related to the link between TV and depression should also be read skeptically. As much as I only want to read happy things about games, I can't help but have my "is the research normatively biased gnome" whisper into my ear, when I read explanations for the different reactions to the various stimuli like the following:

What is it about TV that makes it more detrimental to an adolescent's health than gaming?

In a word, advertisements. Most hour-long TV programs now have over 15 minutes of commercials. That adds up to a lot of time spent listening to advertisers tell you exactly what's missing from your life - and how their product will improve it. "The bottom line is that when we do sit down and think it is nice and relaxing [to watch TV], the reason we feel that way is because our thinking brain is completely turned off," Dr. Primack explains. "It can almost be related to commercials brainwashing us, and saying 'you want this in your life.'

Really? It's commercials that cause depression? Not the inherent passive nature of the medium? Not the lack of social element in TV watching? (All points brought up by Nachbar -- the journalist who wrote the article for The Escapist -- as things that are benefits of games.) Commercials make us feel inferior? Wow. [sarcasm]How insightful in that Frankfurt school cultural hegemony kind of way.[/sarcasm]

I don't know about you, but when I watch the most recent Suave commercial it isn't telling me "exactly what's missing from [my]life." It seems to me, the commercial is saying that Suave is a good product for those who live busy lives. And when I see a car commercial for a BMW (or a sports car) driving swiftly along some coastal highway, my first thought is usually "that's pretty." I don't spend time thinking to myself, "why don't I have the latest model of Mercedes." I'm just not that obsessed with certain material goods defining my sense of self. Not that my personal experience proves anything -- one cannot generalize from an n of 1 with any degree of accuracy. But social sciences are at their weakest when they try to describe "why," especially if the study didn't have a second test group who was exposed to television shows without commercials, and various groups exposed to specific genres of television entertainment. I'll need to read the full report to see what variables they account for, and how they account for them, but unless they test specifically for a correlation between watching advertising specifically and depression, this sounds like a normative bias to me.

All that said regarding a potential weakness in the study -- one cannot know if it is an actual weakness unless one sees the test design -- that doesn't mean that there is not a correlation between television viewing and an increase in the odds of exhibiting depression. There is. There also is no similar correlation between playing video games, many of which do actually have ads in them. The good Dr. and I will have to discuss what all that "unlocking" of vehicles in various race games is other than advertising. one ever said watching TV would help you develop job skills.

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