I saw an ad today for a presentation by Jennifer McLean at the Women in Games International conference, called “Everything I need to know, I learned from playing games.” She must be younger than me — I learned a lot before I started playing online games in the 1980s — but I fully agree with her point of view!
Gaming provides a rich and unmatched opportunity for people of all ages to learn valuable lessons about human nature, good and evil, the value of preparation, equality, dealing with diversity, leadership, economics, merchandising, governing, setting priorities, and team play. Who knew that games taught such important life lessons? Here are some of the things I’ve observed, I’ve experienced, and I’ve learned from more than 20 years of playing MMOGs:
1. The keyboard permits physical anonymity, but reveals a person’s true character. Put a person in a place where they must choose between the most awesome, powerful weapon in the game or doing the right thing for another player, and you know immediately whether that is a person you want teaching your children in school.
2. Guilds and clans are little governments unto themselves, and the rules they evolve attract like minded spirits and weed out those who don’t fit. A lot like most neighborhoods and countries in the world. The leaders who emerge exemplify (and enforce) the laws of the guild/clan. They have diplomats, treasuries and unifying symbols.
3. Planning and organizing a 30-40 player game event is as complex as planning a big event for any large real world organization, and requires as much preparation to be successful. The leaders must be assertive enough to gain respect, but not bully. They must lay out the rules of the event, and be ready to enforce them fairly. They must direct without ordering. They must delegate. They must schedule and ensure the right group balance. They must sometimes say no to friends, because they can’t play favorites. They must be balanced enough to take the criticism that will come anyway, because you can’t make everyone happy. Big games are a great school for young leaders to learn how to manage without real world penalties.
4. There are morons, jerks, exhibitionists, creeps, thieves and egoists in games, just as in life, and the same life strategies apply for avoiding them.
5. Playing by the rules will eventually lead to success.
6. Not everyone plays for the same reasons or satisfactions that you do. Some people actually do play because they enjoy crafting items for sale, or standing around the bank and just chatting, or solving puzzles, or exploring, or being able to complete all the quests in the game.
7. There is an economy in the game with all aspects of the real world. There are haves and have-nots. Supply and demand affect prices. Advertising works. Scarcity of goods causes sharp price increases. People who gather and craft items play an important role in providing what others need to play the game. Real world markets in game-based goods and services can unbalance a game’s economy. Players who can manipulate game markets effectively can become very wealthy.
8. Knowledge transfer occurs in organized groups. Guilds/clans have their own web sites today with knowledge and records exclusively for members. Guild leaders recruit and actively help low level/new players to learn the game better and advance more quickly. Being in a large guild is a ticket to gaining bigger, more powerful items faster and an entree into the most challenging game content.
9. Diversity and equality are advanced in games. Males and females can create characters of the opposite sex and role play them, if desired. Disabled players are on a par with able bodied players if they can manipulate a keyboard efficiently. Everyone’s race, age, religion, and gender are hidden, and discussing real world issues such as religion and politics is pretty much avoided. Games are a great equalizer. Everyone has to be taken for face value on the basis of their words and actions. A bald, overweight, 60-year-old black man in Birmingham, or a Mexican smoker with paralyzed legs in a wheel chair in El Paso, or a 42-year-old anorexic Korean mother in Seattle with a speech impediment can all present themselves as a sassy, blond 25-year-old female snowboarder in graduate school in Cleveland and no one will be the wiser.
10. A person with vision and a touch of humor can easily win followers to accomplish whatever their goals may be.
11. To be greeted when you enter the game creates a sense of belonging.
12. To gain the respect of others, you must honor your commitments. Be there when you promise to be. Do what you agreed to do, even if you have a better offer. Deliver what you agree to deliver.
I’m pretty sure I could come up with more, but for the uninitiated, this provides a good start. The bottom line is that multiplayer, interactive games provide great opportunities for learning real life principles in addition to providing a short term break from the drudgeries of everyday life. Some of gameplay is drudgery, too, but that’s a subject for another time!