Saturday, February 2, 2013

Watching vs Playing Games

 "There's a huge difference between playing a video game and watching someone else play a video game."

  I saw this quote in an article about educational gaming and I wanted to talk about it for a bit. This topic comes up a lot in LARPing as it is truly not a spectator sport. Frequently we think of games in a method about what is entertaining to watch. The crash of helmets in football, the smack of a baseball against a wooden bat, and the sound of a basketball swishing through the net are all iconic spectator moments. But even here, people understand that watching football is totally different than playing football.
  For many video games, the entire experience is designed for the participant. I'm always somewhat surprised that my wife is frequently interested in watching me play games. Though she's only interested in games with a somewhat interesting story like Skyrim, Dragon Age, or Left 4 Dead. But for the most part the experience is the challenge between the player and the computer. The specific example cited in the example above is SimCity, which is basically like watching paint dry.
  One complaint that comes from parents about computers at school is that all kids do on them is play games. What parents often fail to see is exactly what is going on behind the scenes in a gamer's brain while they're playing a game. Basic statistical calculation generally requires extensive use of algebra, probability, reflection on performance, and overcoming failure. Some have felt that these skills are more important than the skills that are gained in formal education. Check out this video that says that World of Warcraft raiders have skills missing from MBAs.

  We're seeing some changes in this. Just as there are sports that are really designed to play, not watch, there are video games that are focusing on the spectating side of things. League of Legends has a number of series of major competitions. Games last from 20-75 minutes and can range from nail biters to fairly bland kill fests. Much like football vital action can take place in just a couple of seconds. But this has become an international phenomena with teams in Korea gaining notability similar to that of sports stars in America. Some games when done correctly, are just fun to watch. There's a couple of local high school clubs that played each other. To support them, I decided to sports cast their game. This is high school level, but this is something I can support.

  In the end there is still a common feeling that someone is just playing mindless game, regardless of what goes into it. What is interesting is that I haven't ever seen people complain about two students playing chess as a mindless game. It's a thought provoking, detail oriented, logic driven simulation. Sounds to me just like every other game I've ever played. But you don't see that from the outside. I'm beginning to feel about video games much like I felt about Harry Potter -- if you haven't read the book, you have no right to criticize it. If you haven't played a number of complex games through to completion, you have no knowledge of the thinking that is required to do so. I'm not saying that everyone will enjoy every game. But we've come far along that by now, there is a video game is for everybody.

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