Reading Notes: Everything Bad is Good for You, By Steven Johnson

This book was published in 2005 and is a fascinating look at how pop culture is actually making us smarter. Yep, I said smarter. I love books that turn common belief on their nose, like The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman, which made me feel like the future was actually a great place to go toward as long as I knew how to look at it.

Here are some notes I took:

p. 41 Games force you to make decisions, during which you have to weigh evidence, analyze situations, and consult goals.

p. 45 When gamers interact with gaming environments, they are learning the basic procedure of the scientific method. This comes from James Paul Gee’s research:

  1. Probe
  2. Hypothesize
  3. Reprobe
  4. Rethink

Video games develop different skills than reading textbooks or watching videos, like logic and problem solving. Video games as you to THINK, whereas textbooks and novels as you to FOLLOW. Hmmm… what would we rather our children be able to do?

What skills do they develop? I’m glad you asked:

1. Telescoping: This is the ability to focus on both immediate and long-distance views. There is a hierarchy of tasks in a game, and you have to manage your time. For example, in some games, you have to walk around and collect things or solve little puzzles in order to get enough coins to buy the right potion to transform yourself in order to get access to a boss villain.

Turns out, this is what we all do in REAL LIFE. You have to run errands and do dishes and pay taxes, all while seeking a larger purpose in life.

2. Probing: Games learn by playing. They don’t read the manual first. They probe the logic (or physics) of the games and find the limits.

Turns out, this is what we all do in REAL LIFE. In your first day at a new job, you seek out the norms, the customs, the relationships, the limits.

p. 48 Ask gamers what is happening to them mentally – not what is happening in the game. That is where the valuable skills are being developed.

p. 55 Games have a narrative when you look back at them, but the stories are not built of events – they are built of tasks.

p. 181 We know from neuroscience that the brain wants new challenges. We problem-solve, untangle puzzles,  and lock in on change to try to decipher the cause.

What I find so ironic about the seeming universal attitude towards video games (that they are a worthless waste of time) is that we so universally glorify athletic games for all the values that they teach us: perseverance, cooperation, concentration, strategy, etc. In my opinion, these are skills that can be learned in ALL GAMES, not just athletic ones. Why does it take everyone so long to see these values in video games?

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