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An Aside: The Perils of Uncritical Enthusiasm

A short post this morning.

The problem of the “weak man” is pernicious. It’s incredibly frustrating to carefully craft a position and then to see it conflated with a duller one and summarily dismissed.

Videogame evangelism often feels that way.

While a decade or two ago there were rampant unsubstantiated claims regarding why games of this or that kind were evil or dangerous, in my experience the pendulum has swung fully in the other direction. The industry is strong and capable of defending itself. There isn’t really a stigma behind games anymore, and casual games are mainstream. “Gamer” culture is well-asserted and enthusiastic. People have been talking about the benefits of game-playing beyond immediate enjoyment for some time now. I’m inclined to believe that games can be pretty great, by themselves or as means to particular ends. But that is precisely why I am very careful with claims about the utility of games when I see them. An example discussion of this could be found here without comment from me.

Games and game-like systems can be useful for all kinds of things: to benefit the person through training and tracking, or to benefit some other system through data collection, for example. In my own life, games have yielded all kinds of useful experiences, deliberately or otherwise. I’ve been listening to the conversation on gamification and games studies for a few years now.

A friend of mine who is still in the world of research on matters like these pointed me to the incidental findings in this recent paper, which suggested that while engagement was higher with the award-winning popularly-acclaimed commercial game than with the decidedly less game-like ITS (Intelligent Tutoring System), the ITS taught significantly more than the game did. Which, you know, great. What’s really interesting:

 In fact, the [“award-winning popularly-acclaimed Commercial Game” playing] students did not improve significantly from pre- to post-tests on solving linear equations. 

More later. Maybe.

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