Fighting the Game

Generational divides frustrate me. Specifically, I don’t like being too far out of sync with my kids and their way of thinking. Video games—and the role they play in my sons’ lives—pose a consistent challenge to my desire for alignment, for while my kids love them, I find myself more and more often fighting the game.

My sons are 13 and 16, and they have been enamored for years (I would say addicted) to playing video games. These virtual worlds are graphically so fast-moving and compelling, it seems hard at times for “real life” to compete for their attention, and as a result, my sons have virtual adventures and pretend exertions—while believing on some level they have actually accomplished something or engaged with someone.

As much as I dislike video games as a pastime, my sons have recently gotten hooked on something I find even more bewildering. Both my sons enjoy watching YouTube videos of other people playing video games. Each, if allowed, would spend hours at a time binge-watching this second-hand game play. If video games are a step removed from reality—substituting hand-held controls and computer graphics for actual living, watching other people play video games is a disturbing step yet further away from actual engagement with life.

People with whom I’ve worked in the gaming industry have told me of the growing need to make game play—the rules and objectives—easy to understand and quick to win. If levels are too hard to grasp, players tend to abandon the game, so smart designers find ways to chunk content into manageable bits that teach new skills in little bits, reward quickly and often and keep players hooked.

On one level, the trainer and teacher within me hates this development. It gives me another reason to fight the game. Gaming goals are to keep people hooked and playing by simplifying content and lowering the competency bar to keep people “winning” while feeding their belief that gains can be easy and should be fast—both false notions in my opinion.

These games and this technology, however, like the generation who loves them, are an unstoppable tide. So rather than fighting the game, I’m trying to expand my view—to see how “gaming thinking” could help my training and development work. Could long conversations retain their power if broken into shorter bits with more focused content? If the bar for a trainer or a coach was set at keeping stimulation high and pace quick, what about my training would need to change? OKA has long succeeded in the marketplace by marrying content expertise and activity with some theatricality, but what if the standard of great training were not a show (stand-up comedy or theater), but the high engagement of a video game? What would great training look like then?

Putting aside my laments of what might be lost in such a training environment, what might be gained? What might improve if I stopped fighting the game?

Video Games 2

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