The Gaming Lobby: The Hunt is On and Our Kids are the Prey*

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:02 pm
PostPost subject: The Gaming Lobby: The Hunt is On and Our Kids are the Prey*
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A profile of Ms. Jane McGonigal touting her visionary perspective on games appeared in the New York Times weekly Science Section, "Voices: What’s Next in Science?"

Science? Science may apply in the development and architecture of game production, but not in the brain science McGonigal says is being applied in games. MsGonigal’s take on the future is a breathtaking audacity of hype.

In my letter to the Science Editor of the New York Times (note how Jane McGonigal’s organization is given full exposure, while reference to Play Tectonics is omitted.)

Ms. Jane McGonigal, director of game research and development, Institute for the Future, is the author of Reality’s Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

Judging by the subtitle, Ms. McGonigal is advancing the idea that the utopian world of gaming trumps our broken, imperfect reality. Really? Is it better to have our heads in the game than to deal head on with dystopian life?

Gaming presupposes an extravagance of time that people, especially the young, have at their disposal in which hours of endless play are spent on the computer in the name of learning. Newspapers are filled daily with stories describing the social fallout of this assumption. This one in the New York Times is among the most recent.

Ms. McGonigal also believes games ‘make us better’. The civilizing benefits of pure play have been recognized by educators and scientists. But Ms. McGonigal confuses authentic, unadulterated, play with the isolation and addictive byproducts of game play. Kids may be able to use their minds and move deftly playing a virtual game, but in nature the survival of a species that cannot move or defend itself is seriously at risk. Regardless of how wonderfully designed the game, endless hours of computer play is a road young minds and their parents can ill afford.

McGonigal argues that ‘games can change the world’. Really? Are games really going to be a planetary agent of change, as the title suggests? The implication is that young, skilled gamers will be the vanguards of change. But how exactly will that happen? World-changing action requires movement, commitment, and engagement. Students who spend hours playing games on the computer evolve into something altogether the opposite of action, commitment, and engagement. I, for one, would rather invest directly in the development of young people who smartly circumvent the habits of endless gaming and learn how to engage and connect with real life of and by themselves. Kids who know how to self-navigate deserve our best wishes and admiration.

If our reality is broken, as Ms. McGonigal believes, then she is by implication writing off the reality of unadulterated, authentic play—the true birthright of children that runs through the blood of each generation. There’s nothing broken in that reality, but if the Gaming Lobby has anything to say about it, authentic play will soon be co-opted and cannibalized by the gathering hordes of gamers serving as pawns of corporate power vectoring in on every school and family on Earth. For pure play—what we might call a sanctuary of mental health and freedom from commercial exploitation—is already at risk, not unlike many of the dying species whose habitats are being destroyed by unchecked corporate greed and a human society that does not know how to organize itself to act in the best interests of its progeny. Our learning culture, which acts more like a factory than a learning habitat, is already deprived of real play. As the Digital Lobby, including some famous foundations, wax eloquent about gaming as the future of learning, they play along with game manufacturers by advancing the myth that games will revolutionize learning. The school culture is always eager to get into bed with business suits hawking the next big, shiny, seductive thing exhibited in the conference hall. If the budget allows, school purchasing administrators will happily embrace tools that ‘free up’ the teacher to leverage the digital power of learning, denying kids what they need, as opposed to what corporations want kids to have.

In the end, it’s all an elaborate charade of programming. Women’s Rights? In the game you learn thoughts and values, but at the end of a very long day’s journey into night, the game is all about input all the time into a collective mind that’s learning how to sit for hours, passively suspended in reality. No matter how educational the game, it is still just that: a game, an exercise engaged in over and over again, on your rear end for hours.

You may be using your mind, but how and for what? Brain scientists tell us that the brain is an instrument of selection—it develops by extending and reaching outside its comfort zone. Game promoters who tell us that gaming and the digital path forward constitute the future are pointing us to an on-ramp on the information highway that is going the WRONG WAY. Play is the full integration of brain resources. If so-called educational game play requires sitting for hours, and responding to cues and rewards, then that is, by definition, and oxymoron.

The Hunt is On, Parents……… And your kids are the prey.

Their very birthright is about to be claimed and parceled out to big business players who are re-defining how, when, and where your kids will play, and therefore what kinds of skills they will develop —skills that will determine how far they will go—and may not go-- in life. These big players will have direct access to your kid’s body, soul, spirit, time, and brain through the highly-touted and relentlessly promoted educational value of gaming. Never has a 3rd party power in our lives had this degree of direct access into your home and into the mind of your child. You think these 3rd parties won’t capitalize and exploit that power—beyond the game itself?

If the Gaming Lobby has its way, your kids will become minor league player in the game of life, as big league corporate players bid for your kid’s undivided attention, body, soul, and instinct for survival. Because even though the academicians believe games are ‘educational,’ we parents need to understand that the companies are pulling the strings with powerful platforms and resources to promote their case via the media. Companies know that the computer game is unmatched in its ability to get into the space that’s closest to kids and their families, in spite of the fact that that space is located behind your locked doors right at home in their bedroom.

Recall if you will in your mind’s eye how you perceived the Indians watching the 1st ships arrive at the shore, and how sorry you felt for them. We are selling our kids out in allowing them to sit at that bright, illuminated screen that beckons them into the virtual universe in the name of computer literacy and education.

In the 90’s MIT and Seymour Papert became Guru Central for the emerging computer manufacturers who needed legitimacy and validation in order to begin making schools feel the inadequacy of 2nd class players without computers. Fast Forward to 2010 when college professors are banning laptops and the gaming lobby has big media in its back pocket; big media knows where its next big loaf of bread will be buttered.

As did the Big Television which, after the initial novelty generated by the invention of the 1st TV’s, understood the reality of having access to a captive audience with its eyes, ears, and spirit plastered to the TV screen.

The world we know as Play, the world we grew up with as free range kids, is in the cross hairs of gaming promoters who want you to believe, just as the Educational TV guys wanted you to believe, that they are ‘educational’ and therefore represent the only legitimate door to the education future and are therefore the best educational use of your kid’s time (even if it makes you wonder and feel queasy.).

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people in the gaming industry honestly believe that their corner on play and learning has integrity. But, having grown up with computers, that’s all they see—their vision is myopic. Their definition of play will be twisted to conform to their biased love of computers and the skewed promise of kids learning not through flawed, imperfect teachers and teaching but through the pristine, elegantly designed narratives and computer art invested with so much love and labor in the Game.

Kids’ love for Play—and their birthright to Play that is unadulterated and free of commercial intrusion and exploitation—be damned.

If the gaming people began to acknowledge the negative consequences of their product—as the candy and soda manufactures now must do in the course of their marketing in schools and supermarkets, that would be one thing. If they produced games that somehow empowered teachers and kids away from the computer and the game, perhaps, too, that would be something to be valued. But that would require a desire to do right by their product’s impact on the young. Let’s see the programmers write that code of integrity into the unchecked pirating of our children’s lives. Until then, the Hunt is On---and our kids are the prey.
"The Hunt is On---and you're the prey" is a refrain commonly used by my Partner's father, Charles Hill, Sr., as his early morning wake up call to his school-age sons--along with "Get out of bed and put your feet on the floor."
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