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Videogames as the Future of Everything: Spare Me October 8, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Readers of the NY Times get regular chuckles from the Grey Lady’s general anti-Interweb attitude. But there’s one consumer technology that she regularly goes gaga over: videogames.

The promotional subhead for the related slide show reads “Are online gaming champions the rock stars of the 21st century? Fifty million Koreans can’t be wrong” while the actual story offers a more reasonable characterization of South Korea as “a country of almost 50 million people and home to the world’s most advanced video game culture.” The usual caveat should apply: very few lessons from Korea apply for any other culture.

Over in the Sunday Magazine section, I’m a fan of a lot of Steven Johnson‘s work, even if he can’t make up his mind whether he’s an original thinker or a poor man’s Malcolm Gladwell. He’s better when he’s thinking, but lately he’s been obsessing way too much about videogames. This piece is full of grand pronouncements, while neglecting some tantalizing ideas presented as asides.

How come the online version of the Sims flopped? Maybe because it’s masturbation self-centered rather than group-oriented. Which is exactly what Spore sounds like, making it a really bad idea for education purposes.

And how about that idea that it “teaches” Intelligent Design? Or that the Spore studio is like a kindergarten classroom? But come on, since when was Brian Eno’s interest an argument for:

    But for people who still think of game design as the province of nerds and arrested adolescents, Wright’s most striking public demo came earlier this summer in San Francisco during an onstage conversation with the musician and artist Brian Eno in front of a thousand rapt fans gathered at the Herbst Theater.

Sounds like nerds and arrested developers to me. Studying videogames in a larger context is useful for UI/man-machine interaction, for immersive entertainment, and for non-linear storytelling. Not much else. Why doesn’t Johnson look at some real 21st century youth communication patterns, like IM, texting, or MySpace? I’d read that.

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