Liveblogging Games for Change – Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson starts off his talk with a clip of when he was on the Colbert Report. Note to self. Try to find a copy of the clip online.

He has a lot of good quotes from a message board for Civilization 4. “How do you deal with religion? Barbarians? Etc.”

He talks about the show “Lost” as an example of the trajectory from very simple to very complicated media. He compares it to Gilligan’s Island. He talks about the ontological, formal, mathematical, historical, geographical and biographical questions that it raises. It is like a game, encouraging people to play along at home, as illustrated in all the fan sites online. He points out an incredibly annotated map that a fan created of the underground world in Lost.

“If games are making us smarter, how come everyone is so stupid?” He talks about how people underestimate the intelligence of kids today, and the bigger is that the skills people are learning from games are not ones that we are currently good at measuring. He cites systems thinking, visual intelligence, prioritizing objectives, and so on as examples.

He talks about the importance of learning by doing, distributed collaboration and patience as important skills being developed.

The cliché of parents and kids talking: The parents ask what they are supposed to do, and the kids talk about how they need to figure it out themselves.

Then, the question comes up, “What about Grand Theft Auto?” It is a complex world. The walkthrough of GTA is 53,000 words long, longer than Johnson’s book.

He notes that carjacking is down 50% since the game came out and that this is the least violent generation of kids since the 50’s. He points out that high school football is also violent. When he gets to Columbine, he talks about how other people were influenced by Catcher in the Rye, or by the movies of Scorese and points out that people are always influenced by their media.

To the question of whether or not games limits imagination, he points out that if you follow this to the logical conclusion, then international travel is bad for you because people who travel internationally no longer have to imagine foreign cultures.

When he talks about addiction, he recognizes that it is a real issue and asks the question about how you can use this for good. To do that, you need to understand what makes a game addictive in the first place.

He talks about the issue of psychological depth and how so much of games focuses only on basic needs, food, shelter, etc. He talks about concern about whether games are good for looking at fixed causal chains, whether it helps people with argumentation or writing.

Question: What about transfer? How do skills that we learn from videogames get transferred to other activities? Johnson talks about a Rochester study about visual intelligence really transferring well, but he acknowledges that this is an important question for more study. He talks about how if we accept there is negative transfer, such as with violence, then we must accept the possibility of positive transfer.

Question: In terms of psychological depth, the question is, how do we build in empathy? Johnson recognizes that this is an important issue and the cliché of what we are building is a society of bright computer scientists that lack empathy, moving us towards a more autistic society. He notes that people are getting really good at building large networks of weak ties. I think this relates to how people learn to deal with flamewars, etc. One game designer talked about efforts to make characters more realistic in expressing emotions. As avatars become more lifelike, they also seem to become more like zombies.

“Because it’s hard to have an emotionally rich conversation with a zombie.”

This brings us back to using the Net to facilitate face to face meetings, such as Vampire Meetups. (He goes off on a great riff about how difficult it is to meet other vampires; you can only go out at night.) It also probably talks a lot the role of online videos.

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