Learning The Gaming Way

Shawn Williams | 22 Aug 2006 08:00
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I started playing not so much out of enjoyment, but rather in self-defense. If I was going to be trapped with some sort of developing super-genius, I wasn't going to go into this unarmed. I've seen Akira; I know how this ends.

Unfortunately, with two of us wanting to play and only one DS between us, I quickly learned that she was being taught other subjects beyond those needed for Brain Age.

Every time I sat down to take the Brain Age test, she would suddenly think of some chore I had forgotten. If she couldn't get me off the DS, she'd make a game of interrupting my gameplay. She'd ask me something about bananas so I'd keep thinking "yellow" and screw up my test. Sometimes she'd hide the cartridge. Once, she even put in Barbie Horse Adventures and insisted it was a new level I'd achieved.

I made it all the way to the Blue Ribbon round before realizing I'd been outsmarted.

Broadening Her Horizons
It wasn't just Brain Age helping Becky anymore. She joined me in Puzzle Pirates, and quickly surpassed me at sword-fighting and drinking. (In the game, I mean - in the real world she's always been better at sword-fighting and drinking.)

Pirates was a perfect fit for her, because it was full of the sorts of games she loved - and they were all games at which I am terrible. Plus, she got to yell obscenities at me with a pirate accent; if there's a better selling point for a game, I've yet to see it.

She wasn't just improving at playing the games. She began scheming - coming up with elaborate plans to deprive me of my possessions in the games. When I finally managed to get my hands on some doubloons in Puzzle Pirates, she came up with a devious plan to swindle me out of them. I won't go into details out of shame, but it involved a sword-fight, a pint of Ben & Jerry's and a ghost costume.

She began to be interested in other aspects of games, as well. She spent several days last week designing an elaborate quest in the Ryzom Ring expansion for Saga of Ryzom. The goal of the quest? You go from NPC to NPC, gathering a number of materials. Each time you turn in one of them, the NPC tells you some new embarrassing fact about me. Imagine my pride as a group of adventurers defeated a horde of evil Kitin and turned in a jewel they guarded, only to be rewarded with the knowledge that I wear homemade Zach Braff Underoos.

Finding Solutions
Sometimes, what we have to learn is simply that we can learn. Games will always entertain; that is their purpose. But when they give us more than entertainment, when they teach about ourselves, that's when they move into an entirely new realm.

Becky isn't ready to start debating Stephen Hawking, but from where she was just a few months ago, it's a drastic improvement. I'm not even sure the game was really doing anything - it could have been simply that seeing her score increase gave her the confidence to try harder and work through her difficulties. The result was the same - she was showing improvement. The game taught her that all her hard work would pay off, that she wasn't helpless.

And that's a lesson we could all stand to learn.

Shawn "Kwip" Williams is the founder of N3 (NeenerNeener.Net), where he toils away documenting his adventures as the worst MMOG and pen-and-paper RPG player in recorded history.

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