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Gamed: Everyone can relax, video games are here to save society

So, it turns out that education is kind of important. Who knew?

Part of the reason this column originally began was in response to a growing chorus of uninformed people that blame video games for anything and everything they want. From Senator Jay Rockefeller looking to prove his own opinions, to Elisabeth Hasselbeck assuring her audience the only one responsible for the recent Navy Yard shootings was the shooter (and maybe violent video games), there have been plenty of opportunities. With that in mind it’s nice to focus on the positives.

Neurogaming-headsetsIt’s fun to criticize kids. We all do it, and always have. Before the “back in my day…” anecdotes that typically demean younger generations and cast them as lazy or less motivated than their predecessors, there were probably people saying “back in my day, we didn’t have that fancy ‘fire’ to keep us warm; we kept warm from fighting bears and we liked it!” It’s generally unfair and untrure (except maybe for hipsters), now less than ever.

Younger generations are smarter than ever before, primarily because they have access to more information than ever before. Technology is a given, and even entertainment is sophisticated to the point that you have to have a base level of knowledge even to entertain yourself. Criticize a kid for playing Call of Duty online all you want, but they still need to know the basic principles of Internet connectivity and how to operate a piece of technology that anyone born before 1960 would consider sophisticated. And possibly magic.

As we’ve already seen from the rise of the Internet, with that technological sophistication comes new ways to absorb information. Ask a teenager that doesn’t follow news what’s going on in Egypt, and compare that to an elderly person that also doesn’t follow news, and the odds of the teenager at least having some clue is exponentially higher from incidental contact to news on websites and forums.

Technology offers us new and better ways to learn, and that’s why games are going to make the world a better place.

Everybody likes playing games in some fashion (except maybe Commies and people that stand at the bottom of a crowded escalator, apparently unaware of the laws of physics and how society works). More and more programs and organizations are seeing the benefits of gaming, and are using that to foster learning and improve cognitive functions. We recently ran a piece about a hospital in Florida that hosted an experiment where surgeons that warmed up prior to surgery by playing a video game for a few minutes, had better simulated results than those that didn’t.

RosettaIn terms of actual learning functionality though, consider Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone language program has won just about every award it has been eligible for. As a brand, it is trusted when it comes to teaching users foreign languages. The company recently launched a new app called Arcade Academy, which presents itself like a mobile game for iOS devices. You play as a girl who recently moved to Columbia and finds herself in unusual, dare I say wacky, situations.

The app is an example of the growing field of ridiculously named “edutainment” products – a word I hope to use as infrequently as possible until someone comes up with a better, cooler name for it, like “razor braining,” or “competitive learning.” The Rosetta Stone game is designed for anyone, but was made so it is accessible for younger users. It is just one example of the growing field of razor braining.

A while back I attended the Neurogaming conference in San Francisco, where the products on display ranged from simple games controlled by concentrating on a particular wavelength, which triggered a response in the game, to games meant to help returning soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress. The scope was massive, but the common thread was that they were all presented as games, even though they had ulterior motives.

These apps work. They are fun to use and they have quantifiable benefits. Gaming in general, regardless of the presentation, has been shown to have numerous positive effects from helping the elderly with cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s, to relieving tension in potentially violent kids (yes, violent games can actually help violent kids). And then there are the more general benefits, like improved multitasking and better hand eye coordination.

The bottom line is that humans as a species do tend to veer towards the easier option. That doesn’t make them lazy, just smart. I too could have walked to school through the snow uphill – both ways! – but why would I? I could take a warm bus. The image above is from my college town. Factor in that I lived about three miles from campus my senior year and go ahead an imagine the caption “nope.” If the difference in me learning a foreign language is dedicating several hours each week to trying to memorize squiggles on a page/screen, or playing a fun game that teaches me the same stuff almost as a secondary function to the game itself, it would not only make sense to play the game. I would be dumb not to.

And that is a powerful idea. Games are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and with that, our relationship with them can reach new heights. Give it time, and one day soon a future generation may play games all day long, and they will be much, much smarter than us because of it.

Hot Coffee and News

Call of Duty wants its title back from Rockstar

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Driveclub rumored to be delayed

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Update: The rumor has been confirmed

Pokemon sells $4 mil in 2 days

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