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A generation of super intelligent pixel babies

I have a crippling, debilitating disease that has devoured countless thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in the past year.  Just about every time I seem to get ahead financially, the symptoms start acting up again, and it’s time for me to make an appointment with a specialist, whose main job is simply to tell me how much money it’s going to take to get life back to normal this time.  They can only tell me this after locking me in a room with the horrors of daytime TV for about three to four hours.  The diagnosis alone usually runs me around ninety bucks, but the soul sucking horrors of that small TV make it feel like I’ve given more, oh god, so much more.

This disease, by the way, is a rusted out, life hating 2003 Hyundai Accent GL.  The air

According to the internet, someone bought this car for $8,500. SOMEONE GOT RIPPED OFF.

My transportation. My disease.

conditioning stopped working sometime last spring, the power windows have been taking turns busting out their motors, my brakes have leaked fluids into parts of my car that don’t need brake fluid, the windshield wipers scream in agony every time they have to move  and the engine has multiple personality disorder.  I don’t like to talk about it much.  The only reason I’m posting it on the internet is so you know why, exactly, I found myself stuck with no hope of survival in front of the antics of Regis and Kelly, and later, Ellen DeGeneres.

I tried to make small talk with some of the old ladies who were stuck in my own personal purgatory with me, but I found all my conversations were about my inability to understand what I was seeing on TV.  (“Wait, Ellen just started dancing?  And everyone in the audience loves it?  What…  what kind of sick fantasy world is this?!) Thus disheartened even more, I pulled out my DS to escape reality programming and the awful, crazy people who legitimately think impromptu audience karaoke is good television.

This came up during the "metal medley" search in google. Not sure what game it's from, but I think I need it.

NOOO I NEED THE XP!!

Thus distracted, I was halfway through a particularly intense battle involving a stack of metal slimes in Dragon Quest 9, when the television cut to a commercial and pulled my attention back again.

“Are video games actually making your kids smarter?”  The television chirped.  “You may be surprised.  Find out tomorrow at 10 a.m. on Regis and Kelly!”

And the eyes of all the old women snapped on me, as I hid behind my DS.  Oh god, I thought to myself.  They’re going to want me to make a generational statement. Christ.

“Pfff, no,” I said, a little too forcefully.  “They’re just trying to get people my age to watch their awful programming because anyone who actually likes this show is probably going to be dead soon.”

No one said anything.  They just kept staring.  I started to feel uncomfortable.  “N..  Not you guys, I mean,” I stammered.  “You know…  uh… old people.  Sick ones.  Man, I’m hungry.  Anyone want a burger?  Imma go get a burger.”

And that’s how I found myself eating a Wendy’s at 8:30 in the morning, downing a double cheese burger and glancing out the window to make sure I wasn’t being followed.  The commercial I saw still gnawed at me, though.  I’ve been watching how mainstream media has been dealing with my generation suddenly being adults.  The return of Hulk Hogan and Alf have been interesting to see, sure, but I’ve always held them at arm’s length, knowing full

I always thought Regis was just one Prozac away from punching Kelly in the face at all times.

well companies are praying on my nostalgia.  The idea that they were now trying to blatantly trying to tell me I’m smarter than everyone else just to get me to watch Regis and Kelly felt like a bit of a slap in the face.

Not because I disagree, of course, but it was insulting that they’d think I’d ever watch Regis and Kelly outside of my car repair purgatory.

I eventually did get my car fixed, but the memory of that commercial slowly faded under the mind-numbing horrors of daytime TV.  I forgot all about the claim, my mistake at telling six old women they were near death, and my early morning double cheese burger.  I’ve recently stumbled on this idea again, however, and it apparently goes a bit deeper than what I originally thought.

The basis of the claim that video games are making us smarter comes from a book recently written by Steven Johnson called Everything bad is good for you. For those of you who are sufficiently intrigued, but don’t actually want to pay money for the thing, check out the book on Wikipedia here.

Is it TV head Wednesday already?

The book is available on Amazon.com as well.  The website for that one is http://www.amazon.com.

Okay, fine, I’ll stop being a wise ass.  Check it out on amazon here.

Here’s the basic run down.  Johnson’s states that popular culture has been getting more complex as the generations go by, and is now much more intellectually stimulating than it was fifty years ago.  This makes a lot of sense, really.  Even the most banal, awful, terrible show on cable is fundamentally more complex than what it was decades ago.  I might not like the subject material, but even those awful, terrible daytime TV shows I was subjected to require people to have a passing knowledge of popular culture in order for them to be relevant.

Video games, he argues, help people with forward thinking.  People are immersed in a game, and it’s up to them to figure out the game’s system, how to play it, and eventually how to beat the game on its own terms.  And people will be more disposed to playing video games than straight up book learning, because we apparently have “victory centers” in our brains that mass produce opiates when we win.

Eventually, Johnson states, we could be using video games in retirement homes and communities to help senior citizens with memory problems or chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s.  A pretty lofty goal for the industry, I have to admit.

That being said, I’m not sure I agree with some of his points.

First off:  I’ll be the first to admit that video games are way more immersive than movies or television.  You are, after all, directly controlling the main character’s fate.  But I think Johnson is forgetting one major factor about learning when he writes about learning.

Everything is a learning experience.

Sorry kids. It doesn't stop. IT NEVER STOPS.

Whether you’ve been out of school for ten years, one year, or fifty, you never stop learning.  Each day brings some new piece of information before you that you honestly might not have considered before.  After playing years of video games, the only knowledge I’ve gained has been in-game knowledge, lore and whatnot.  Sure, I can rip through a Zelda style puzzle like nobody’s business, but when was the last time you had to complete a complex torch-lighting puzzle using a fire wand, a boomerang and some bombs before you got into the break room at work?

Basically, what I’m saying here is that you learn to beat the game on its terms, but that leaves real life up for grabs.  I’m still having trouble with that part.  For example:  I ran out of checks today.  What…  what the hell do I do now?  Do I have to get a new bank account?  Or do I just never access my money ever again?  Mario, you’ve never taught me this.  Then again, you’re paid exclusively in mushrooms, so maybe you’re not the best person to ask.

So, everything is a learning experience.  But that doesn’t mean what you learn is going to be relevant outside of that game.

Video games have ill prepared me for this game, sir!

Another thing that Johnson states is that video games help kids with hand-eye coordination and reaction time.  I’m pretty much a counter point to this argument.  I can’t catch, throw, slap, kick, or do anything elegant with my hands.  In fact, I spelled elegant wrong like five times before I finally just hit spell check, not because I didn’t know how to spell it but because my nubby little fingers kept hitting other keys without my say so.  As far as I can tell, the only physical boosts I’ve gotten from playing video games are meaty thumbs and the ability to dominate anyone in thumb wars.

I do believe video games are evolving into something much greater.  The Wii is now used for rehabilitation and exercise, though I wonder how many consoles were purchased and then had clothes piled on them just like the exercise machines of old.  It is very possible that someday they will establish a video game to help senior citizens with memory problems, kids with reaction times, and edge us ever closer to that fabled generation of super intelligent pixel babies, but we’re definitely not there yet.

My (internet) name is Tophat.  I’ve been a gamer since I was six years old.  Video games are my hobby.  But am I smarter, stronger or faster than your average Regis and Kelly viewer for it?  Okay, maybe.  But Regis and Kelly leave that bar pretty low.

Oh, and if you’re an old woman, please stop staring at me like that. Cold, dead eyes, man.  I can’t handle the eyes.

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3 Responses

  1. Good post. Personally I think any gains in intelligence or problem-solving capability from playing video games have been offset by the internet. There are claims (Wired magazine ran an article on this) that it has rewired our brains for shorter attention spans and less focus.

  2. Tophat: Good point about the commercial just trying to bait younger people into watching a show they would otherwise never pay attention too. I predict we’ll be seeing more of this 😦
    I disagree though about the only learning to solve torch puzzles from video games though. I think there is a definite element of subconscious learning that video games (among other things) can help with. Sure you may not be hitting a 100 MPH fastball anytime soon, but critical thinking skills? I’m sure it varies from person to person, but I bet Johnson does have a point.

    Zenestex: Nail on the head. I sometimes think about this when I have the TV on with the volume turned down, reading an article about something on a website, and listening to a podcast at the same time. I don’t think it’s a shorter attention span or lack of focus, I think we as a culture just demand more to hold our focus. With so many more options, there is no reason for tech savvy people like ourselves to be watching Regis and Kelly. Websites, podcasts, netflix, video games, we no longer put up with stuff we don’t enjoy that much.

  3. Lovely post, Tophat!

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