“Video and computer games were now an integral part of our lives. My boys spent many hours playing these games, as they did with many other games. Being unschooled means your time as a child will be spent playing games many, many hours a day, almost all the time, especially when young. Children, in general, do not separate life from games. Everything they encounter turns into building blocks for a game. That is how they make sense of the world. It soon became clear to me that there was no moral or fundamental difference between playing Lego or playing game-boy, playing soccer versus a video game, role-playing while playing outside with friends versus role-playing on the Internet with friends. Each game in each medium has its special characteristic, its ups and downs, and children who are allowed to choose freely will most likely strike a balance between the different types of games they like to play, especially when young. More than that, children will mix-and-match their activities: when meeting a character they like in a game-boy game, they will later dress up as that character and have an imagined game outside with friends, playing out that character and its adventures. When encountering a story line in a strategic card game they are immersed in they may take that and write a story of their own to expand the adventure; when playing an internet role-playing game, they may then teach themselves HTML in order to build a web site connected to that game (true stories!). I finally understood that I felt more comfortable when they played games I used to play as a child and that I got suspicious about the new genre of games, which were not familiar to me. I noticed that there was wide agreement that the current culture-kids-music-games are not what they used to be and that we sigh and agree that each generation is somehow diminished. Sounds familiar, right? Maybe something you heard your parents say when you were a child, or growing-up?
But – not being a gamer myself – I did not really get how complicated video-games are until I’ve read Johnson’s book. The level of investment needed to figure out how to master and beat a game is astounding. Video games which are considered the best tend to be complicated and difficult rather than simple and easy. They often require buying a companion 200-300 page manual, researching the internet for more current tips, consulting with friends and family and logging many hours of play trying out different tactics and strategies, often encountering failure and frustration before achieving the ultimate goal.
Is the picture becoming clearer? Unlike playing “Snakes & Ladders”, here you need to develop problem-solving ability, to read and research possible solutions, to try again and again, never giving up, and to put in the time needed to reach your goal in-spite of often being badgered by adults who do not understand what you are trying to do. I don’t know of a better metaphor to what is required to live a committed and productive life. These are all things we say we want our kids to develop, and yet we are all so worried when they are going about developing these qualities through playing video and computer games”.