Since I was running short of things to worry about, I turned my attention to fact that today’s youth are not learning something called “executive function”. Far as I can tell, this is child psychologist-speak for what we used to call self-control. Okay, self-control mixed with internal dialogue.
Back in my day — when I organized a cadre of easily swayed youth into digging storm tunnels to prepare for an eventual tornado (knowing, of course, even at that tender age, that tornadoes are highly uncommon along the Central Coast of California) as part of ongoing game loosely based on the “Little House on the Prairie” books (in addition to serving as commander-in-chief of the tunnel diggers, I also held the exalted position of being the only one who had read all the books) — kids went wild with the imagination and free play. We built elaborate games, either for single players or groups, with sets of rules and roles.
Not so much with today’s kids. Play has changed dramatically over the decades and free-flowing, imaginative time has suffered. With it, so have the behavior patterns of today’s society. You don’t have to be a researcher to know that manners and good social skills have declined. For proof, witness drivers on cell phones who are oblivious to the fact that they are holding up traffic. Witness sporting events where derision in the form of booing greets normal game play. Witness conflict resolution at the point of a gun.
It’s sad that we live in a world where “game” has become a dirty word. Free-wheeling imaginative games are deemed too messy and unstructured. Video games are considered anti-social. Heaven forbid you sit down for fifteen minutes of mind-numbing Solitaire during the workday. If it can be called “fun”, it can’t be good for us.
Jane McGonigal, creator of Alternate Reality Games such as “The Lost Ring” — her current endeavor where an ancient, thought-to-be-lost Olympic game is rediscovered (I am so looking forward to mastering a sport that nobody else on the planet has yet mastered — I could be the first world champion!) — and “I Love Bees”, believes that games can save the world.
Her logic is simple: games make people happy. She outlines four key principles of happiness, and, yeah, games can do all that: 1) they create satisfying work; 2) they allow someone to be good at something; 3) they offer a way to be with people we like; and, 4) they let us feel like we’re part of something bigger. Money doesn’t define happiness. Personal satisfaction defines happiness.
I think this is especially true when it comes to collaborative gaming. Suddenly, disparate groups — societies — are forming to achieve common goals. Everyone has a role, some creating their functions as they go along, and various skill sets are utilized in the collective effort to win. Of course, with games, there’s always a bigger game to play.
Games are not like real life. Nobody plays games where the goal is to spend 8 hours in a cubicle. So much of our modern life is designed around a dead-end existence; why not bring more games into our reality to give everyone a chance to be excellent, to be happy?
Games can also break down geo-political boundaries in a way that diplomacy cannot. We are historically positioned to cross time and space using technology — reaching out collaborating with someone across the globe creates amazing bonds between societies. Perhaps it’s time to stop with the bombing and start with the gaming.
I am hereby declaring game month at Medialoper. This does not mean slacking off (you know who you are!), but rather that we are all going to introduce some fun into our lives. I, of course, will be training to be an Olympic-caliber athlete. You?
You’re absolutely right about the value of unstructured play. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a huge back yard – with terrain that made it difficult for anyone in the house to see exactly what was going on in the far corners.
One particular game that ran for multiple years in some form or another started with the mining of various types of rocks from deposits scattered around the yard – landscaping lava and old bits of asphalt, mostly, along with the occasional bit of quartz.
Basing the economy on those commodities taught us a lot about how a free market works – and why using Eucalyptus leaves as a fiat currency inevitably leads to hyperinflation.
We also learned about the role of government in the regulation of industry. My mother assumed an EPA-like role, at one point banning the destructive hydraulic mining that we’d found to be the easiest way to extract an ancient deposit of landscaping lava rocks from the hard-packed dirt on the hillside.
The instant lottery system (dirt clod ‘tickets’ that might or might not contain a valuable rock) was quite successful, and a newspaper even ran for several issues (complete with commodities information mostly made up on the spot) until we ran out of quarters for the copy machine at the library.
The game finally ended after the discovery of a massive pile of lava rocks behind the neighbor’s back fence that caused a collapse in the most important commodity prices. That, and we discovered girls. Or figured out how to download dirty pictures from BBSes, anyway.