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Gaming and Teamwork

I find it really hard to understand why gaming in the US carries the stigma that it does. From my parents' reactions to my gaming when I was young to comments in class about the value of gaming as an academic discipline, I don't really understand why people dislike seeing gaming as anything but a waste of time.

Slashdot always has interesting articles on gaming, and I find it interesting that scientists are asking for funding to look at gaming. Annoying, however, is the distinction that the scientists draw in the difference between educational games and entertaining games. Given that they cite team building as a potential benefit of gaming, I find it hard to believe that they would disregard games such as Counterstrike or Starcraft (which are undoubtedly built solely for pleasure) as educational.

Some of the tightest and most coordinated team play I've ever seen has come from highly competitive Counterstrike teams. Even more than many sports teams I've played for, there is no room for ego in these groups. Strategies are discovered and agreed upon, and teammates move in precision adherence to the plan with room for improvisation extremely restricted. And they're happy about it – there are very few situations outside the military in which I've seen such dedicated teamwork.

So why the differentiation between educational and for pleasure? Is there such a difference?


When those scientists finally get the $$ to study, I suspect they'll find something like this: Games teach not by mimesis in the usual sense, but by establishing systems that the player works to crack. In a sense, that's more mimetic than, say, a half hour with poorly made edutainment: We don't generally live by sitting and listening to Some Theory About the World, but by trying to crack whatever system operates in a given circumstance.

So games edu value should generally be judged by the game engine, consistency in world-logic, or something like that. (I suspect I describe this clumsily).

I spent many years thinking I had wasted some good time playing chess -- a game which is less mimetic than Starcraft or CS, by a long shot! About 15 years later, using one more chess-based metaphor to explain a problem in language acquisition, I realized that I habitually related the relationships between pawns and knights and bishops and so forth in utterly farfetched analogies.

The insight that stays with me is that if I had not played chess, I would not have the materia prima for that particular analogy. Oh, I might have found something else somewhere else that may or may not have worked. But I would argue that my fascination with the game should have convinced everyone that I was building brain with it. Nobody doubted that I built muscle when I did pushups.

Surely, someone out there is considering whether to try a zerglike or quasi-protoss solution to some problem, and the considerations lifted from the game will have no more to do with the violent story lines or the lurid graphics on the box than my analogies have to do with whether the chessboard is ivory or wood.

It won't have to do with whether the "Terrans" fight the "Zerg" or the "Aztecs" fight the "Conquistadores" either.

This bears some relation to the thing that has long been called "art for art's sake" -- a total misnomer.

As Chomsky said somewhere, probably in some other words, "Just about anything that's interesting is educational; nothing that's boring ever is."