Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blogging Has Taught You Very Little Useful

Wil Hutton at Aggregate Cognizance has an interesting post up: Gaming Has Taught You Very Little Useful. It reminds me of all those arguments about video games back in the eighties when grown men would point out with a perfectly straight face that playing Galaga improved their hand-eye coordination. This is patently absurd, of course… but it’s also perfectly natural to defend yourself when you’re under fire for spending a lot of time on something that’s otherwise useless. Naturally, a sweeping generalization like the one in Wil’s post begs for a counterexample, but I have to say… it is largely correct.

I do remember, though, way back in high school… English class was a nightmare. I’d get these writing assignments and… I just simply. could. not. do them! It was pure agony. I was completely embarrassed about it. My mom and my teachers all assumed I was just a typical “generation X” slacker. Granted, I never asked for help. The whole thing was a domain of raw humiliation and I had no idea what to do about it. So I disengaged… and coasted along through high school on the path of least resistance. My inability to write a simple essay would end up making my college years similarly lackluster. My choice of major was severely constrained by this, though I didn’t really grasp that at the time.

I got on with life, though… and at some point I started blogging about games. The impetus at the time was that the Car Wars forum at Steve Jackson Games’ website was private and I didn’t have anywhere else to engage on the subject matter. At some point, though… I sat down and fired off a quick post on some random topic. This would have been maybe my 300th post. I don’t even remember what it was exactly, but going back over it before hitting the “publish” button, it dawned on me that I had written a pitch perfect five paragraph essay.

It was all there… the introduction, the conclusion, the supporting details. I was even answering the obvious objections. It had all just sort of fallen out of my head and into textual form. Whatever it was that had been blocking me back in my school days… it was gone. I wasn’t a superstar by any stretch… but just the fact that I had achieved a basic level of competency in writing… it was exhilarating. Blogging on an otherwise useless topic had allowed me to gain for myself a skill that everyone involved in my upbringing and education had been unable to impart to me.

Not one dollar had exchanged hands– and if I had accomplished anything it was to merely help an audience of about twenty or thirty people to perhaps gain a modicum of enjoyment from a relatively obscure pastime. I was wasting time… and helping other people to waste it right along with me. And face it, the market is willing to pay next to nothing even for a good five paragraph essay on a worthy topic. But something had changed in me. Overcoming that basic incompetency on my own made me feel like a rock star. Sure, it wasn’t particularly useful skill. But I could sense doors beginning to open up all around me… and I suddenly had the courage to try to go through them. I don’t know how else I could have gotten to that point without spending a lot of time on an otherwise useless activity. It’s a small thing, but it’s still one of my most treasured accomplishments. And I’ll write five paragraph essays now whenever I feel like it!


6 responses to “Blogging Has Taught You Very Little Useful

  1. Alan August 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    “Researchers found that doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37% less mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27% faster than their counterparts who did not play video games.

    “‘I use the same hand-eye coordination to play video games as I use for surgery,’ said Dr. James ‘Butch’ Rosser, 49, who demonstrated the results of his study Tuesday at Beth Israel Medical Center. ”

    “A growing body of university research suggests that gaming improves creativity, decision-making and perception. The specific benefits are wide ranging, from improved hand-eye coordination in surgeons to vision changes that boost night driving ability.

    “People who played action-based video and computer games made decisions 25 percent faster than others without sacrificing accuracy, according to a study.”

    • jeffro August 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      A doctor might use his hand-eye coordination to do surgery, but it’s the surgery that’s actually useful, not the gaming.

      That’s almost like saying that basketball is useful because people that play basketball can harvest more tobacco than people that don’t.

      • Alan August 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm

        Perhaps we’re defining “useful” differently?

        Playing basketball almost certainly improves hand-eye coordination, strength, stamina, and quick decision making. If one is serious about it, I’m hoping it improves discipline, respect for one’s team, and honest appraisals of one’s own capabilities. All of those things will serve one well in a wide variety of areas. I’d certainly call it useful. Maybe not as efficient as dedicated training in a particular area, but if one enjoys basketball it provides a benefit beyond simple enjoyment. That meets my understanding of useful.

        I have a suspicion that any serious hobby provides useful benefits beyond the immediate enjoyment.

        (And regarding the comic books: heck yeah. :-)

        [Yeah, I guess I’d define “useful” as being able to support a family with it. Developing your ability to leverage your hobby skills into cash is an entirely different activity from merely pursuing your hobby. — Jeffro]

  2. Alan August 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Hutton’s article yields that you can learn useful things from gaming, but for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t count because there are “more efficient” ways to learn those things. That’s nonsense. It doesn’t matter that there might be a “more efficient” way to learn a skill if I’m not going to engage in it because I loathe it. This is the same thinking that leads to the idea that we should teach children to appreciate reading by forcing them to read “good” literature that they’ll hate. The result isn’t a nation that loves to read, it’s a nation that overwhelming fears reading. It’s the kids who spent their time reading trashy fantasy who grow up with no fear of diving into a good book.

    (The bits about not putting it on your resume, yeah, I’m with him there, but that’s not something I’ve ever seen in my life. And he is just likely touching on the far deeper issues with how we screen candidates for jobs.)

    • jeffro August 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      I think it was Orson Scott Card that said that if you want kids to learn to read and love reading when they become adults, you should dump a truckload of comic books onto every single elementary school. I think he has a point.

    • rivetgeek August 29, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      I glossed over some things, partly because of ranty-mode and partly because…I’m not sure why. It’s not that whatever enrichment someone gets from roleplaying games is less or more valid than that same enrichment from another activity, it’s…well, it’s that it’s not more valid. Most of the backlash I’ve seen (subtracting comments on my tone, which I’ll willingly cop to) has to do with the notion that gaming has made them special through some innate quality within the act of gaming. People don’t like hearing this sort of thing, I get that.

      But my contention is that whatever it is that someone got out of gaming has more to do with them as a person than the gaming itself. Enrichement from gaming is what you put into it, not something that magically happens because you pick up a d20. There are plenty of putzes out there that roll dice. And while it might have been more enjoyable than another method of learning someone for you, the method you loathe works just as well for someone else, because it’s a highly individual process.

      Again, maybe my somewhat confrontational tone buried this message – but it’s totally there and I know that I didn’t mangle it too badly because others have definitely picked up on it. In fact, I’d say positive vs negative response is pretty much split.

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