Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hand Held Learning Conference Day 2 Part 2

Steven Johnson Everything Bad is Good for you

Everything Bad is Good for You: How Popular Culture is Making Us Smarter: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter

Steven takes a third way approach to some of the popular myths around today's popular culture. In short summary computer games are not mindless distractions, they actually require thought and effort and a game like SIM CITY is an example of where the player has to hold a tremendous degree of interlinked information in their head.

I remember reading Stevens book last summer and it was this thought about games that struck me. I think he said something along the lines of nobody actually points out that games are often very hard. At the time I was working with a school and trying to prove that games could add value to the classroom, so this thought appealed greatly. His premise with all of this is that we are getting smarter and indeed we need to be smarter as many products we use in pop culture demand that we engage our brains.
Games also require a good deal of work and problem solving. He also points out that collaboration opportunities which games afford, either through multi player games, or through the forums where people hang out to try to find the answers to they need to proceed to the next level.
Alongside games he also compares how TV has developed from Gilligan's Island to Lost. Or from Dallas to Desperate Housewives. He argues that these shows work on a number of levels and demand that viewers are able to hold onto oblique references from previous episodes. Thus spawning huge fan experts who would plot maps and document story arcs on sites like Wikipedia and sites dedicated to the show.
He argues that TV shows like Lost and I'd argue Doctor Who, borrow a lot from computer games, as they present the viewer with a multi layered world, and a world that requires you to take the keys form level one further into the gain, even to level 12 or 13, as it is in the final that such keys finally begin to make sense.
I recommend reading Steven's book if only to affirm to yourself that it is OK to play games for hours at a time, and to waste long hours in discussion about the meta narratives of Heroes.
And while you are waiting for the postman to deliver your copy, you can watch his talk at the Hand Held learning conference, embedded below:

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