In a recent blog post, Nicholas Carr, author of the critically acclaimed
Shallows, reviewed some of
the latest studies on the cognitive effects of video games. Carr argues
that while playing games might make you a little better at certain jobs that
demand visual acuity under stress, they’re not going to make you “smarter.” Maybe it’s
me, but using the term in this context smacks of rigid IQ tests or
SAT scores. I am a huge proponent of living
a balanced life and taking time to step away from the video game console,
iPhone and digital buzz, but this narrow interpretation seems to ignore the possibility
that “smart” can and does include interpersonal, verbal and visual
skills along with such things as playing sports, music or just introspection.
The scope of Carr’s argument on games is similarly limited.
As the world of video games continues
to evolve, so too should our expectations of how games
will positively influence how we work, learn, and live–online and
offline–in the near future. I believe this is an important and
compelling nuance that Carr’s post does not address and that should be
included in the conversation on games and the impact they
have on our lives.
The video game genre is enormous and ranges
from single-person shoot-and-kill, role-playing, strategy, and simulation
to adventure, education, massively multiplayer online games, and social
media games. There are a whole host of unique
rubrics and experiences associated with playing different games. With
the breadth and scope of the entire video game genre in mind, and the
potential to apply the same principles of gaming across many different
disciplines, why shouldn’t we expect games to make us smarter?
Why not also hope that games could be created to help us lead healthier
lives, deepen our level of compassion, or foster economic prosperity
in communities a world away (real communities, that is)?
Rather than debate survey results and
continue to go in circles deciding whether the data is misleading or
not, let’s face the challenge before us. I say we strive to create
games that strengthen our minds, emotional intelligence,
physical health and wellness, social bonds, and perspective on the
Consider the recent launch of the startup Motion in Math created by two guys who used to play Mario
Brothers’ Donkey Kong. The app, which my daughter loves,
aims to make fractions and percentages fun and easy with a motion-based,
math game that integrates physical movement with learning. That’s
a much needed upgrade from the pie visual I recall from grade school.
In the area of work, Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Read demonstrate how
businesses are using games to increase leadership and productivity among
employees in their book Total
Engagement. The authors
rightly point out, “[E]ven if games seem irrelevant to your business,
they certainly aren’t to people you’re going to be hiring, and that’s
reason enough to find out about how they work. Business needs to motivate
and engage workers who have very different expectations about communication
based on extensive, new, and often intense media experiences.”
I can’t think of a better way to engage the millions of talented Millennials
entering the workforce. The organizations that make game technology
part of their culture will have the upper hand. A recent Gartner survey predicts that more than 50% of organizations
that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes by 2015 (i.e. giving employees points for thinking of creative ideas). Imagine the possibility for attracting new talent or reinvigorating
demoralized employees with a gamified organization.
The bottom line is that we are only
bound only by our inhibitions, imagination, and ingenuity. Games of all types
provide an engaging medium that millions of people are already
using, so (pardon the pun) how can we use gaming to get to the next level
of civilization? Organizations like Games
for Change are leading
the charge in using games to affect social impact. From increasing
awareness and cultural thinking on some of the most important public
issues of the day (like poverty, global conflict and human rights), groups
like Games for Change are decidedly taking a smart step in the
right direction. Games are here to stay, so let’s find ways to
incorporate them for good and make them more meaningful and relevant
to society, work and family.
Judah Schiller is co-founder and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S, a San Francisco based consulting firm focused on activating companies for good.