The Summer 2006 issue of The Wilson Quarterly includes a long think piece by me on video games. I was having trouble summing up the article, which includes some discussion of the "serious games" movement, a brief look at the history of video games, and quite a bit of analysis and history of the "games are teachers" argument popularized in Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good for You. Fortunately, the magazine's editors did the job quite nicely for me on the table of contents: "Video games aren't for adolescent geeks anymore--if they ever were. Now they're powerful teaching tools, for better and for worse."
Although I'm basically sanguine-to-neutral on the long-term effects of video games on society, I'm particularly interested in what people think about my riff on the "for worse" part of the equation. I'll give away part of my conclusion here:
Shorter Wilson Quarterly: "The important thing to find out about video games isn't whether they are teachers. 'The question is,' as game designer Raph Koster writes in A Theory of Fun for Game Design (2004), 'what do they teach?' ...
"Whether you find the content of video games inoffensive or grotesque, their structure teaches players that the best course of action is always to accept the system and work to succeed within it. 'Games do not permit innovation,' Koster writes. 'They present a pattern. Innovating out of a pattern is by definition outside the magic circle. You don't get to change the physics of a game.' Nor, when a computer is the referee, do you get to challenge the rules or to argue about their merits. That isn't to say that there aren't ways to innovate from within the system. Gamers are famous for coming up with creative approaches to the problems a game presents. But devising a new, unexpected strategy to succeed under the existing rules isn't the same thing as proposing new rules, new systems, new patterns.
"Our video game brains, trained on success machines, may be undergoing a Mr. Universe workout, one that leaves us stronger but less flexible."
The article isn't online, so head to your newsstand of choice (even in Kansas) and plunk down your $6.95 for the hard copy to read the rest of it. Alternatively, you could save gas money by mailing the magazine an $8 check.