Timing is everything.
A starred review --- the very best kind --- from Publishers Weekly is not a small thing, so an enterprising publicist at Penguin Books sent me the rave. The book, coming out in January, is by Jane McConigal. The title: "Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World." (To pre-order the book from Amazon, click here.) The review, in part:
As addictive as Tetris.... For the nearly 183 million Americans who will spend an average of 13 hours a week playing games, McGonigal's book is a welcome validation of their pursuits. But for those who don't understand, or who may worry that our growing preoccupation with games is detrimental to society and culture, McGonigal argues persuasively that games are in fact improving us.
In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework. On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like "Harry Potter" or "Star Trek," rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV. The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys' brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a "significant decline" in the boys' ability to remember vocabulary words.
"Who wants to read starting in the middle of Page 137?" she [Ms. Blondel, the teacher] asks. One student begins to read aloud, and the rest follow along.
To Ms. Blondel, the exercise in group reading represents a regression in American education and an indictment of technology. The reason she has to do it, she says, is that students now lack the attention span to read the assignments on their own.
"How can you have a discussion in class?" she complains, arguing that she has seen a considerable change in recent years. In some classes she can count on little more than one-third of the students to read a 30-page homework assignment.
Just to be clear, I'm a big fan of collaboration --- when it's real. For example, when 250,000 people submitted drawings that became a Johnny Cash video. Or every page of The Collaborative Habit, the book I worked on with Twyla Tharp. But playing games that lead to communities that go on to solve real problems --- I think we're more likely to see Sarah Palin publish her translation of "The Iliad."
Jane McGonigal has a husband. And a dog. No kids yet. I don't point that out in the way of a jerk who says, "What does she know?" I mention it only because her admiration for smart kids who suck at schoolwork but play 10,000 hours of computer games before they're 21 might get re-examined if it were her kid zoning out in the back row.
It's well and good for kids to play. And to play computer games --- in limited doses. But I'm thinking about a photograph I recently saw. It was of an 8-year-old girl in China. She was on her way to school. She got there by crossing a raging river on a zip line.
That Chinese girl is our 8-year-old daughter's future competition --- or collaborator. Somehow I feel she's not coming home to play games. Call me crazy, but I don't think an American kid who's passionate mostly about World of Warcraft is going to present much of a challenge to her. And I think it would be good if pretty much everybody read --- for starters, because it's about the real world of real war --- "The Things They Carried."
PS. I just read a Thomas Friedman column inspired by the Times piece on Digital Distraction. Here's the last paragraph:
If you want to know who's doing the parenting part right, start with immigrants, who know that learning is the way up. Last week, the 32 winners of Rhodes Scholarships for 2011 were announced -- America's top college grads. Here are half the names on that list: Mark Jia, Aakash Shah, Zujaja Tauqeer, Tracy Yang, William Zeng, Daniel Lage, Ye Jin Kang, Baltazar Zavala, Esther Uduehi, Prerna Nadathur, Priya Sury, Anna Alekeyeva, Fatima Sabar, Renugan Raidoo, Jennifer Lai, Varun Sivaram.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com ]