Is it a tragic waste of time & cognitive surplus that people spend so much time on mobile and online social games like Farmville, Angry Birds, Lolcats etc? Opinions are mixed with claims that people are spending too much time playing games that program humans into machines which respond automatically to stimuli and others arguing that scientific research shows playing video games is actually the most productive thing we can do.
I’m not sure myself so I collected articles and videos from several perspectives here to help you decide for yourself. I haven’t played any computer, mobile or console games since 2005 because they resulted in RSI pain in my hands (since gone thankfully). However it’s well known that I like Lolcats and Caturday blogposts on my friend Kate’s website. Making, looking for and sharing Lolcats could be considered a similar area to casual social gaming.
People need time to switch off and relax. It could be that the current popularity of online games like Farmville and mobile games on smartphones like the iPhone are just a modern version of the Snake game which was so popular when Nokia ruled, or Tetris Minesweeper and Pong games on desktop computers in the decades before that.
After reading and watching so many arguments about the topic I think Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken offers the most balanced view.
Games can be good for us: make us happier, more creative, more resilient, and better able to lead others in world-changing efforts but some games are better for us than others, and there is too much of a good thing. Play games you enjoy no more than 21 hours a week; face-to-face with friends and family as often as you can; and in co-operative or creator modes whenever possible rather than by yourself.
An example of online games being used for good was put forward by John Robb, a respected author, entrepreneur, and a former USAF pilot in special operations, who now researches the Future of War, Future of Peace and Resilient communities:
Most people wouldn’t associate growing food with a game. It’s hard work (as the summers in my youth working on our family farm attest to). Despite this preconception, gaming software (and particularly MMOs — massively multiplayer online games), might be a way to supercharge local food production – The Food Game (Global Guerrillas blog)
I’ll leave you with these thoughts. What if the next generation Farmville type games encouraged millions to play them, while secretly remotely controlling actual mechanised systems in real farms … is that so far fetched?
EDITOR: After reading this article my friend Mark Pesce referred me to an interesting experiment called TeleGarden:
Telegarden is a telerobotic installation that enables users of the World Wide Web to see and cultivate a real garden. Conceived in 1994, it was activated in June 1995 at the University of Southern California and presented, over the course of the summer, at the leading international exhibitions of digital art and technology, among which ‘SIGGRAPH ‘95′ in Los Angeles. Since September 1996, Telegarden has been physically in Linz, Austria, at the Digital Media Museum of the Ars Electronica Center. – Alan N. Shapiro, Technologist and Futurist
Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel written in the mid 1980’s by American author Orson Scott Card. Set in Earth’s future, humans have barely survived 2 wars with an insectoid race.
In preparation for the expected 3rd invasion, the world’s most talented children are taken at a very young age to a training center known as the Battle School where teachers train them in the arts of war through increasingly difficult training games controlling fleets of ships. Only at the very end is Ender told that the simulations were real battles taking place with real fleets and he annihilated an entire species.
Clay Shirky has written a book called Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.Jane McGonigal has written a book called Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.