Can Computer Games Save Us All? New Research Shows How Gaming Can Help Cure Our Social Ills
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Scientists had been working on it for 10 years, the gamers solved it in 10 days. These are not people with PhDs in microbiology, these are ordinary gamers, and there’s talk they could get a Nobel Prize in medicine just for playing a game.
That example shows you can give a really high-stakes challenge like AIDS or cancer to gamers so that they are mastering a new skill, they’re stretching, they’re collaborating, they’re immersed in the flow -- but also they’re doing something that really matters.
TM: We’ve mentioned stretch a few times. When something is too much of a stretch, you fail too much and you can get frustrated. When something is not enough of a stretch you get bored. There’s a sweet spot that seems to bring out flow in people, and the game industry can program that sweet spot into their games in a way that’s very hard to replicate in reality.
You point out in your TED talk that if we take Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, then there are 500 million people in the world who are virtuosos of something. What is that something they’re virtuosos of?
I came up with four powers or skills that seemed to cut across almost any genre of these computer and video games. One is what we call urgent optimism, having a kind of radar for opportunities to rise to the occasion, constantly scanning for the next quest or the next mission so that you can volunteer and tackle it. That’s a pretty interesting skill, somebody who’s always ready to help if you can just get their attention.
Second, blissful productivity -- that resilience to stay engaged in something for a long time, even if it’s hard for you. Gamers are really good at looking for sources of feedback, so they can feel that they’re making progress, so that they can stay engaged. Many young people who’ve been diagnosed with ADD hyperactivity disorder lose the symptoms when they’re playing one of their favorite video games.
This has led to a lot of controversy. A New York Times editorial about this research said, “It’s not that the symptoms have gone away, it’s just that the real world isn’t as engaging.” That makes me crazy, because I think, well, shouldn’t we fix the real world then? [ laughs] Instead of saying that they have a disease. Shouldn’t we just try?
Third, social fabric -- the ability to feel like you’re part of a community where everybody shares certain values, certain goals, and that everybody in the community has a chance to contribute based on their strengths. Online multi-player games are a really great place to see this in action. Your particular avatar, who specializes in a certain skill or a certain power, contributes to the larger group using that skill or power. Everybody gets a chance to add the one thing that they do best.
The last is a sense of epic meaning, being able to see a bigger purpose to your actions, a heroic story, a venture that you’re on or a purpose you’re fulfilling that is bigger than yourself. These kinds of epic narratives keep you working hard, committed to your challenge, and collaborating with others.
TM: You’ve said, if real life is not engaging enough, does not test us enough, does not give us enough feedback, and does not reward us enough with a feeling that we matter – then task one would be to rejigger real life so that it can begin to do those things.