Why little scientists love virtual games

The Prospect (UK) has published an article, "Rage Against the Machines," that discusses at some length the leadership issue mentioned in yesterday's post on leadership and virtual games.

I wanted to comment on the following passage, which brought to mind someone special in my life.

Since the publication [of Everything Bad is Good for You] in 2005, [Steven] Johnson's argument in favour of what he labels the "Sleeper curve"—the steadily increasing intellectual sophistication of modern popular culture—has become something of a shibboleth for futurologists. To some, such as Malcolm Gladwell writing in the New Yorker, the book was a delightful piece of "brain candy"; to others, like the Guardian's Steven Poole, it was "an example of a particular philistine current in computer-age thinking." Johnson's thesis is not that electronic games constitute a great, popular art to be set alongside the works of Dickens or Shakespeare, but that the mean level of mass culture has been demanding steadily more cognitive engagement from consumers over the last half century. He singles out video games as entertainments that captivate because they are so satisfying to the human brain's desire to learn.... Where [some] sees an identity-dismantling intoxication, Johnson finds 'a cocktail of reward and exploration' born of a desire to play that is active, highly personal, sociable and creative. Games, he points out, generate satisfaction via the complexity and integrity of their virtual worlds, not by their robotic predictability. Testing the nature and limits of such in-game 'physics' has more in common with the scientific method than with a futile addiction, while the complexity of the problems children encounter within games exceeds that of any of the puzzles of logic and reasoning they might find at school. [Emphasis and hyperlink supplied]

My wife and I have recently had a discussion several times in regard to our youngest son, who is soon to turn seven and spends considerable time playing video games. He has become quite skilled at making his way past the challenges and roadblocks that litter his virtual path.

How much is too much?

So far we've set fairly generous limits. But the answer, as suggested in the quote, about why he spends that time perched on his stool next to the living room family computer might be more straightforward. It's simply more rewarding than cracking the logic that is putatively meant to develop the little scientist in him as he sits in his chair in a formal class setting.

That's not good.