ASR Installment 3: Just for Fun

Welcome to the third installment of the 2011 All-School Read!  As we head around Independence Day towards Bastille Day and on towards August and its cooler cousin, September, it's almost time to get ASR serious.  Almost.

If you are a late arrival to this summer's ASR scene, you might want to take a look back over the first two installments...before the back issues pile up too much higher.  They are available on the ASR homepage.

Now, while it might seem that this installment on gaming is postponing (indefinitely) the need to “get serious,” we are indeed trying to take a critical look at what the use of technology for fun, for diversion, for pleasure, or with playful purpose might mean to us.  Judging by the sheer amount of time and energy that goes into online gaming (and worrying about online gaming), whether through desktop, laptop, or handheld, there is surely something worth considering.

So, perhaps with the distorted objective of draining the fun even out of gaming itself, the ASR offers the following critical views on the games we play through technology.

How this Works

As usual, browse through the 3 selections below (they are the "required" pieces). For this installment, the sequence is not particularly important, though the order does suggest a sort of “balanced” take for starters, followed by a “con” take, followed by a “pro” take. After reading, please visit the Reactions page and share your thoughts. For this selection in particular, given the fact that a variety of potentially novel/inflammatory opinions and approaches are suggested, your own views might be especially strong and/or necessary. Remember, your reactions might be posted (with your permission) in future installments.  

If you are interested in some tangential links to the ASR, you can find additional articles and resources on the Further Reading page. (Gotta say, the second "further readings" piece is especially intriguing...teaser!)  Tune in on July 25th for the next (fourth) installment.


Backstory: As you perhaps know by now, Virginia Heffernan, the op-ed writer on digital and pop culture for the New York Times, will be visiting Middlesex to speak as part of the All-School Read events in late September. Her Opinionator blog posts continue to provide great material related to the theme of this year's ASR. On Sunday, 7/3, her latest piece, published in the op-ed pages of the Sunday Review had to do with the power of games to both divert and direct.

Quotations from the talk:

So what’s the idea — and even the social message — behind Frisbee Forever? The message is deep in the design: never give up.”

At the same time, Frisbee Forever is not nearly challenging enough. In real life you have to learn to tolerate frustration: how not to storm away when the pitcher’s throwing strikes, how to settle for an Italian ice when sundaes are forbidden, how to try the sixth subtraction problem when you’ve gotten the first five wrong.”

Games, like nothing else, give a break from the feeling that you’re either too dumb or too smart for this world.”

Questions for Consideration:

1. Can a virtual game ever teach you something as effectively as a person can?

2. Does practice in the virtual world improve performance in the real world?

3. Do games, brought to us through the powers of technology, actually contain, promote, and/or undermine ethics and values? What about non-technology-based games?

Read  Opinionator: How Games Steer Us Through Life


Backstory: In the same edition of the Sunday Times as the Heffernan piece above, the author Joel Bakan wrote an article on the popularity and “messaging” of online gaming, focusing particularly on the website (ASR is understandably reluctant even to provide the url here, but there you go.  Faculty, please return to the ASR if/when/once you are done with your gaming binge). For this selection, it’s important to access the graphic that accompanies the article.

Quotations from the reading:

Though violent games aren’t the only type of games on the site, they are well represented — and many appear on the site’s list of most popular games. A quick look at the list supplies a sense of what entertains many of us.”

The games at and other premier game sites may be casual, but their use of graphic violence to generate profit is strategic and calculated.”

Questions and Thoughts for Consideration:

1. Can a game be “casual” and “violent” at the same time?

2. Either the popular games highlighted here are shameless promotions and exploitations of violence and violent instincts, or they are “just kidding” or they are some curious mixture in between.  Ponder/discuss.

3. Why are these games so popular anyway?

Read  Opinion: Games People Play


Backstory: In order to avoid the sense that the ASR is old-fashioned, close-minded, and just plain not fun, we wanted to find something that provided a positive spin and some upside for the concept of gaming. Once, again, thank you TED. The title of game developer Jane McGonigal’s talk says it all…literally: “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” It’s a 20 minute video, but it’s worth the viewing and thinking.

Quotations from the talk:

My goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games. Now, I have a plan for this, and it entails convincing more people, including all of you, to spend more time playing bigger and better games."

In fact, I believe that if we want to survive … if we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade. (Laughter) No. I'm serious. I am.”

Questions for consideration:

1. Well, this is an easy one: can gaming make a better world?

2. Is the gaming instinct something to be enhanced or subdued?

Watch  Ted Talk: Gaming Can Make a Better World

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