Everything Bad is Good for You

How popular culture is making us smarter

by Steven Johnson (http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/)
Penguin, 2005 (buy book)

Quotations from Part One:Games :

the experiential gap between those who play and those who don't:
"...we rarely hear accurate descriptions about what it actually feels like to spend time in these virtual worlds. I worry about the experiential gap between people who have immersed themselves in games, and people who have only heard secondhand reports, because the gap makes it difficult to discuss the meaning of games in a coherent way." (pg25)

"The dirty little secret of gaming is how much time you spend not having fun. You may be frustrated; you may be confused or disoriented; you may be stuck. When you put the game down and move back into the real world, you may find yourselfmentally working through the problem you've been wrestling with, as though you were worrying a loose tooth. If this is mindless escapism, it's a strangely masochistic version." (pg 25/6)

Delivering information through games:
"The interesting question here for me is not whether games are, on the whole, more complex than most other cultural experiences targeted at kids today - I think the answer to that is an emphatic yes. The question is why kids are so eager to soak up that much information when it is dleivered to them in game form." (pg 32)

Why do games engage?
"Some might argue it's the interactivity that hooks, the engagement of building your own narrative. But if active participation alone functions as a drug that entices the mind, then why isn't the supremely passive medium of television repellant to kids?" (pg 33)

Why do games captivate?:
"To date, there has been very little direct research into the question of how games manage to get kids to learn without realizing that they're learning. But a strong case can be made that the power of games to captivate involves their ability to tap into the brain's natural reward circuitry." (pg 34)

"In the gameworld, reward is everywhere...most games offer a fictional world where rewards are larger, and more vivid, more clearly defined, than life." (pg 36)

"Seeking is the perfect word for the drive these designs instill in their players. You want to win the game, of course, and perhaps you want to see the game's narrative completed. In the initial stages of play, you may just be dazzled by the game's graphics. But most of the time, when you're hooked on a game, what draws you in is an elemental form of desire: the desire to see the next thing." (pg 37)

Drawn to rewards:
"If you create a system where rewards are both clearly defined and achieved by exploring an environment, you'll find human brains drawn to those systems, even if they're made up of virtual characters and simulated sidewalks." (pg 38)

De-emphasizing the content of game culture::
"We ignore the content of many activities that are widely considered to be good for the brain or body. No one complains about the simplistic, militaristic plot of chess games (it always ends the same way!)...it's about building up a mental muscle that will come in handy elsewhere." (pg 40)

Making decisions:
"Far more than books or movies or music, games force you to make decisions. Novels may activate our imagination, and music may conjure up powerful emotions, but games force you to decide, to choose, to prioritize. All the intellectual benefits of gaming derive from this funadamental virtu, because learning how to think is ultimately about learning to make the right decisions: weighing evidence, analyzing situations, consulting your long term goals, and then deciding." (pg 41)

"Probing often takes the form of seeking out the limits of the simulation, the points at which the illusion of reality breaks down..." (pg 45)

"...the mental labor of managing all these simultaneous objectives...Telescoping is all about order, not chaos; it's about constructing the proper hierarchy of tasks and moving through the tasks in the correct sequence." (pg 55)

Quickly making sense of an environment:
"Probing and telescoping represent...the emergence of forms that encourage participatory thinking and analysis, forms that challenge the mind to make sense of an environment." (pg 61)

Tolerating visual chaos:
"...the reality of MTV visuals is not that the eye learns to interpret all the images as they fly by, perceiving new relationships between them. Instead, the eye learns to tolerate chaos, to experience disorder as an aesthetic experience, the way the ear learned to appreciate distortion in music a generation before." (pg 61)

Finding order:
"...what you actually do in playing a game - the way your mind has to work - is radically different. It's not about tolerating or aestheticizing chaos; it's about finding order and meaning in the world, and making decisions that help create that order." (pg 62)