Saturday, 6 July 2013

Developing collaborative prowess through gaming

The second half of Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken seeks to make the connections between games and real life. One of these points of connection has to do with the collaborative capacity that is being developed amongst those who game. The numbers are staggering.  

By the age of twenty-one, the average young American has spent somewhere between two and three thousand hours reading books - and more than ten thousand hours playing computer and video games (McGonigal, p.266).

McGonigal connects the 10000 hours of gaming with the work of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: the Story of Success, wherein he makes the case that many people who have experienced extraordinary success and high achievement have done so through the accumulation of 10000 hours of practice at their core activity. (This is a very rough generalised summary of part of his argument; I commend the book to you as a stimulating read in and of itself. Of course, Wikipedia offers this summary for those who are short of time!)

McGonigal suggests that the gaming 21 year old of today has been practising collaboration for 10000 hours. Collaboration in this context entails three different types of concerted effort: cooperating (acting purposefully toward a common goal); coordinating (synchronizing efforts and sharing resources); and co-creating (producing a novel outcome together). McGonigal, p.268. Her contention is that, by virtue of the immense amount of time invested, gamers are developing extraordinary powers of collaboration.

She identifies three capabilities that are demonstrated by these super-collaborators. First, these people are extremely outgoing in a networked environment; they do not hesitate to reach out to others for assistance or to respond to others' requests. Second, they are adept at identifying the best collaborators for a particular task or mission and leveraging individual's abilities towards the goal. Third, these collaborators are at ease in complex and chaotic collaborative environments, being comfortable with uncertainty, being able to maintain a high-level perspective, and practicing possibility scanning (remaining open to unplanned opportunities and surprising insights). McGonigal 277-79

If McGonigal is right, then the habitual gamer is developing 21st century skills independently of their formal education and without realising it. This would be a great outcome.

My main query with this part of her work is this:  How transferable are the (putative) collaboration skills to other non-gaming contexts? Do endless hours of Halo or World of Warcraft or Farmville do anything other than make you really good at games?

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