Do video games make players better leaders?
Some "top researchers" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison assert that video games create better leaders.
According to the article (forgive the extensive quoting):
Video games let their players step into new personas and explore alternatives. Not only that, but people can try to solve problems they’re not good at yet, get immediate feedback on the consequences and try again immediately.
Gee said the ability to explore right away makes games more engaging than textbooks or lectures. In schools, “you have to read 500 pages of biology and then you get to do biology,” he said. “Of course you only actually read 200. [A video] game allows you to perform before you’re competent.”
Because games keep things “pleasantly frustrating,” Gee said, players have incentives to keep on improving their performance. That can lead to learning outside the game as well. After his son started playing Age of Mythology, he started reading more about real-world mythology, Gee said.
Does this sound very different from the breathless anticipation with which computerized education was predicted in the early and mid eighties? Although computers are undoubtedly a fixture of the classroom now, they are far from the primary teaching tool.
I'll continue to quote extensively from the article:
In Full Spectrum Warrior, Gee said, players lead a team of soldiers and must keep them all safe by using the right formations and maneuvers. Losing even one means the game is over.
Gee and his colleagues would like to make similar games that let players be scientists or take on other professional roles. Squire has worked on a game called Biohazard in which firefighters must react to dangerous situations. They learn the most effective ways to, for example,
evacuate people from a mall after a sarin-gas attack. Firefighters like the game and even play it over break because it allows them to be heroes, he said—and because the game characters are smartly dressed.
Games also let players be producers rather than just consumers. Many recent games allow “modding,” the insertion of new plot-lines, graphics and characters, or even the creation of entirely new games. Squire mentioned the strategy game Civilization III, as well as first-person shooters such as Half-life. Role-playing games such as Neverwinter Nights also allow players a high degree of control.
“You can use Neverwinter Nights as an application development environment,” said Preston Austin, chief architect at Clotho Advanced Media, Inc. The game includes an event-driven programming language that lets people set up their own complex plots and scenarios, which they can share over the Internet.
So the thesis is that games enable players to learn, er, some things. Or they might. Sometimes.
But what of leadership? I hate to harp on this, but unfortunately it was the focus of the article's title.
Because there is nothing whatsoever about leadership mentioned in the article (just search the page for instances of the term "lead"), I feel confident in making the following statements:
- The authors of the article do not have a clear definition of leadership.
- The authors of the study, if they have a clear definition of leadership, have not made it clear to the article's authors.
- Leadership is not easily taught by video games.
I suspect that the root of the problem is that our society believes that leadership is a Good Thing but does not really think much about what it might be or how one might get some. That makes the discussion generated by this blog pretty important.
But the reason I read the article at all was the title, and after reading the article I find no reason to agree with the title's statement at all. I suspect that the facts that
- games have an obvious point;
- the problems in games are meant to be solved;
- no intelligent force is acting against the player's agenda; and
- the world of the game is necessarily limited
imply that games are far different from the leadership situations in the real world.
If games can help create leadership, their assistance must be moderate at best.