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Aug 27, 2012

How playing computer games makes you smarter

Occasionally I have the pleasure of spending time with people who are not internet-savvy. People who are not tech-savvy. People who are certainly not geeks. I think I’ve spotted a symptom of non-gameness…

 Those people, when presented with information they do not immediately have, for example ‘how to turn this on’ or ‘how do you change the channel on this?’ or similar, will, if at all possible, ask the nearest ‘tech savvy’ person. They will not, under any circumstances, unless the situation is desperate, try to solve the mystery themselves. They definitely will not press a button to see what happens, or go with a hunch.

In short, they are wary of experimenting and exploring. 

 Gamers, I suspect are not like this. Games are safe environments in which you can explore, investigate, and try out new ideas. With console games, it’s even more true. You can’t accidentally format your console by pressing wrong buttons. You can blindly press things and see what they do. Often, you will guess correctly, and get a nice dose of dopamine for doing so. Hurrah, you learn to associate experimentation with success, and reward. 

 Compare that with earlier, passive forms of entertainment, such as books, movies and the theater, where there is nothing expected from the audience. They are certainly not encouraged to participate. In fact, any sort of noise from a theater audience can result in anger. Non tech-savvy friends often express barely contained fear that they might press the wrong button and a gadget may explode, possible resulting in the death of millions. Maybe that’s also a generational thing. Health and safety obsessions mean me live in a world that practically has corks on forks. It was not always so. 

 I think these different approaches lead to different mindsets. The passive entertainment form is great for factory workers, the military, or any career where you are supposed to follow orders, and not step out of line. The interactive form is far better for careers that involve experimentation, creativity, critical thinking, design and originality. As technology marches on, less and less people will be doing simple, assembly line jobs. If your kids are 14 today, they are much more likely to have creative and expressive jobs than people from 50 years ago.

 In summary, encourage your kids to play computer games. It’s good for them


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