All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Video Games + Social Computing?

I admit, one reason I've written fewer posts recently is because I am the new owner of a Wii. Each time I turn it on, I feel a "pang" of guilt, knowing full well, that there is always house stuff to do, great articles to read, blog posts to complete....

But thanks to an interesting article in Discover Magazine titled, "This is Your Brain on Video Games: Gaming sharpens thinking, social skills, and perception", I have been able to partially justify my addiction. It turns out that the hours spent playing these games is really an intellectual investment in myself. Yay!

"they now recognize the cognitive benefits of playing video games: pattern recognition, system thinking, even patience. Lurking in this research is the idea that gaming can exercise the mind the way physical activity exercises the body: It may be addictive because it’s challenging."

"The findings contradict nearly all the preconceived ideas about the impact of games. The gaming population turned out to be consistently more social, more confident, and more comfortable solving problems creatively. They also showed no evidence of reduced attention spans compared with nongamers. "

The article is full of interesting references to various scientific studies, and examples of the application of video games into the real-world. I can't do it justice in this post, so suggest you take a read.

I do want to highlight a couple points that have implications in the world of social computing and Enterprise 2.0

1. Focus

You've likely read articles that talk about the lack of focus in today's youth. For example, they are unable to read a whole article, never mind an entire book. That they are constantly in the need for "multi-tasking" but is that really just another way of saying they can't focus? Well have you ever tried to pull them away from a video game?

The article provides examples of how several subjects were able to withstand high-levels of discomfort and distraction for hours playing a video game simulation. Now think about an E2.0 work environment where we ask for collective input from our employees. Perhaps we ask a sales person to update the sales manual, or a service rep to provide their thoughts on how to provide awesome customer experience through a blog.
Unless you are one of a very few companies that actually provides time for employees and have changed your compensation model to allow for this activity, it is likely, these requests are additional "volunteer" work that people just can't find the time to do because they are too busy or become distracted by the barrage of e-mails, phone calls, etc...

In a world of Blackberrys, it's pretty easy to get distracted. Using game design may help ensure focus on the social applications we build, or simply how we work. Have you been to a presentation that you just couldn't focus on and perhaps once or twice you peaked at your Blackberry? The next two points can provide some clues as to how to do this.

2. Optimal Learning and the "Regime of Competence"

This concept talks about finding the sweet spot to learning. Basically, the challenge can't be too hard where it's frustrating nor should it be too easy where it is dismissed. If you create a packaged application that is designed for the masses, you will undoubtedly have some people that will dismiss/ignore the application and others that will be frustrated by it.

Video Games however, stagger difficulty on a progressive basis, that finds the "sweet spot" (or as psychologists refer to it, a regime of competence). Similarly in any social application you deploy consider offering a basic "level" which anyone can get started, but then increasing the challenge level after they successfully master a level.
The concept of raising the challenge progressively ensures that people develop and enhance skills always in the sweet spot. If it's too easy, people dismiss it and if it's too hard people give up.

"In October 2006 the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) endorsed video games as a potential means for teaching 'higher-order thinking skills, such as strategic thinking, interpretive analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, and adaptation to rapid change.'"

3. Reinforcement & Motivation Theory

That which gets rewarded gets repeated. Video game designers knows this really well. So much is written on motivation theory, so let me just provide a couple of "video game" concepts that work.
  • Relative ranking: With online gaming, you can see how good you really are relative to other players in the world. You can also see it based on various other dimensions (i.e. Geography, Level, etc.). Vroom's infamous Expectancy Theory talks to the valence concept which is the value held to the reward. The value to an extent is relative (i.e. If I achieve a score of 10,000 I might be pretty happy, but if I find out that score is in the bottom 5% I am not going to be as thrilled). Competition helps ensure we don't become satisfied with a certain level of performance but strive to do better and better with a known achievable benchmark.

  • Badges: After achieving a special feat you are awarded badges. This is an emblem to show others or for personal fulfillment of accomplishment. What makes this effective is knowing they you have achieved a certain level of distinction which can be proudly shown to others.

  • Progression levels: If you have completed 37/40 levels, the desire to just complete it after you've spent so much effort is there. In fact, smart design may actually skew the level so it is non-linear. In other words, level 1-30 may really have been very easy but 31-38 hard and 39-40 extremely hard. Gamers only see that they are "so close" when really the design was intentionally done to get them to that level.

  • Unlocking Surprises: Often games will provide a "surprise" that you can accidentally find. This seemingly "random" reward is a powerful motivating factor. Think of the power of slot machines as an example. Several studies have examined various reinforcement schedules and have found the the most "addictive" of these is Variable Ratio. Variable ratio has the highest rate of responding and the greatest resistance to extinction compared to other reinforcement schedules.

I can now go back to my parents and explain that I really wasn't wasting my life away playing all those video games. If James Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin is correct, we can expect the video game generation well prepared for a 2.0 world

"They’re going to think well about systems; they’re going to be good at exploring; they’re going to be good at reconceptualizing their goals based on their experience; they’re not going to judge people’s intelligence just by how fast and efficient they are; and they’re going to think nonlaterally. In our current world with its complex systems that are quite dangerous, those are damn good ways to think.”

Now if you don't mind.... "Scuse me while I kiss the Sky" on Guitar Hero III

1 comment:

Steve Sauvageau said...

Hi Rex,

You blog posting and the article you are refering to are quite interesting.

I have been playing video games since elementary school and I can tell you that I spent MANY hours in the last 20 past years. I probably played with 300 to 400 different games from several categories (Turn based simulation, Real-Time Simulation, First Person Shooter, Strategy, etc).

I always thought that my skills at work were a bit related with my gaming experience so I wanted to thank you for sharing this article. I will use it as a reference each time someone is telling me that it is a waste of time to play video games. :)

Now lets get ready to the 2.0 world.

Have a good day!