Gaming, Literacy and attention spans

The news that the old gaming society in DCU, STOCS, is to be merged with the computer games society because of falling membership is disappointing – as people have pointed out, college societies often suffer periods of decline. Coincidentally, this merger is almost exactly what is happening to the gaming group in Alex’ school, which was a warhammer/magic orientated group and is now, for purely admin reasons, merging with a newer video-gaming ‘club’ as a survival strategy. I wonder, however, if console and PC based gaming poses a serious problem for old fashioned DnD gaming?

I wonder if this reflects a change in the nature of gaming and game playing – when we were in college, old fashioned round the table gaming was great fun, and no one could ever imagine anything on a computer that could ever that fun, and flexible and imaginative and free-wheeling. Back in the 90s, if you typed “I kill Gandalf and steal the Ring” your PC would have said “YOU CANNOT PERFORM THAT ACTION AT THIS TIME” but now, hey, you could try it, and try it with really fancy graphics. Now, you can create entire new worlds in Neverwinter Nights or Oblivion, and I’m sure we’ll see a day when there is a FOSS equivalent of WoW. There is indeed some competition out there, and some old gaming may well fall to it, but I imagine that once people get tired of mobs moving back and forth along pre-programmed lines, they’ll want some real GMs in those game settings.

However I do have a question – how many of you on the list know teenage gamers who actually have the mental application to play a full RPG session, never mind a campaign, with, like plot arcs and character development? I have had some interaction with that age group, and I have a feeling that sit-round-the-table gaming will take a hammering from the console kids? specifically, I find that there is a limited pool of people out there with the attention span to create the shared suspension of belief that makes up a great Dungeons and Dragons gaming group.

It calls to mind a comment I made in discussion elsewhere recently on the difference between using discussion forums in a Learning Management System, and the attraction of Facebook or Bebo, which allow you to bolt together a bunch of components very easily and ‘create’ a webpage that looks busy, but has required little or none of the thought that a reflective forum or blog post requires. Web 2.0 certainly provides us with a great many tools to facilitate creativity, but few people seeming now to be willing to invest the time required to get beyond superficial use of the tools available.

‘Old fashioned’ roleplaying games do require players to understand and work some fairly complex rules to make the game world, and have the creativity to imagine, create and co-operate in the game work in a way that simply firing up Warcraft simply doesn’t demand of the user. Old board and counter wargames make similar demands, and where wargame guru Jim Dunnigan once said that only 10% of the population have the mental capacity to cope with that level of compleity in gaming, I think he might have been overestimating a bit.

Of course one of the reasons for using gaming in education is to try and increase the percentage of the population who can operate at the required level of creativity and complexity. One of the great advantages gaming has for teaching creativity, teamwork and understanding complex systems, is that is if fun. However, when the goalposts of fun move from Dungeons and Dragons to Warcraft, and educational uses of gaming becomes harder than fun, then the gaming part of edugaming doesn’t sell so well anymore.

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