A few weeks ago, I read Everything Bad is Good For You, and I was pretty impressed with the argument that Johnson laid out. The book is essentially an argument against the people who claim that technology is dumbing us down, or that television is getting stupider with time, etc. There are several points to be made there, but his main point is that, if you do any kind of objective measure, programming today is more complicated and requires greater mental participation from audiences than programming ever did in the past. Shows have larger casts of characters, more complicated plots, more sub-plots, and stories are measured in seasons, not episodes.
Amanda started a nice discussion over at Pandagon, and Mighty Ponygirl talked about it as well.
The thread at Pandagon is growing nicely, and, not surprisingly, there are a number of people who are really dismissive about gaming and video games. A lot of the arguments levied against gaming and television are the same kinds of arguments that were levied against radio, or comic books, or whatever media type you want to bring up. There's always this reaction against it, and this doom-and-gloom forecasting about how X new media type is going to bring about the destruction of our children's minds.
Johnson never argues that gaming is the best new tool for education, and that we should abandon reading altogether, which seems to be lost on several of the posters. There's the usual criticism that games are all fast-twitch and that they must, therefore, contribute to a decline in attention span, and that the only thing they teach is how to process lots of simultaneously occuring pieces of information- such an air traffic controller might have to do.
These kinds of arguments treat every game as though it's Asteroids on speed. They imagine that the gamer is forced to make tons of split-second choices amid an ever increasing wave of hostile forces, while trying to rescue the princess, etc. And, sure, there are games that involve that kind of rapid-fire, fast-twitch gaming.
There are also lots of games that reward slow, methodical planning. Hell, there are entire genres devoted to rewarding careful gameplay. Turn-based strategy/tactics games and RPGs, for example, greatly encourage players to think about longterm goals, not just the immediate circumstances. Also, you know... being turn-based sort of negates the need for fast-twitch responses. Weird, that.
Ultimately, I find conversations like the one on Pandagon infinitely frustrating and annoying, though. The focus on "but games make kids stupid! They make them lazy! They give them ADHD!" ignores the very real concerns that we should be having about games.
Here's reality: Games aren't going anywhere.
That's the fact of the matter. Games aren't going away, and whining that you don't like them because you think that they're all fast-twitch and flashing lights isn't going to change that. It's mostly just going to make you look like you don't know what the fuck you're talking about, and like you haven't picked up a video game since Space Invaders was king (and even then there were games like Utopia that were, you know, rewarding for people who wanted slow, methodical gameplay!). Games survived that big crash, and there's not likely to be another one. Gaming is a huge industry. Video games bring in more money than the film industry's box office draws.
There are real problems with video games, and harping on about how you think that books are soooo much better than Bloodrayne is nothing but a distraction. As recent events have shown, there's a lot of work to be done in the gaming community. Homophobia, sexism, and racism are all still serious problems in the gaming community.
Ultimately, what these conversations seem to reveil to me is that there's a huge cultural divide between gamers and non-gamers. Gamers don't really take the comments from non-gamers seriously, precisely because there are so many non-gamers who clearly know very little about what gaming is actually like. If you think that gaming is nothing but flashing lights and sounds and that playing a game is just about processing tons of information all at once- ignoring chaos- why should a gamer listen? That's not, I suspect, what most gamers think of their experiences as being like. The other thing it does is reinforce the idea that non-gamers are trying to get rid of games or trying to take games away from gamers. This is, in fact, kind of true. There are a lot of people, like Gore, who think that games are a total waste of time. So, it's not surprising that gamers might not react kindly.
More on this, I'm sure, to come...