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					Everything Bad Is Good For You
Steven Johnson

• There are deep-seated appetites in the human brain that seek out reward and intellectual challenge • ….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 • The nonliterary popular culture is honing different mental skills that are just as important as the ones exercised by reading books

• The popular culture has been growing increasingly complex over the past few decades, exercising our minds in powerful new ways • Compare the epic scale and intricate plotting of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy to the original Star Wars trilogy • Toy Story, Shrek, Finding Nemo all follow far more intricate narrative pathways than The Lion King, Mary Poppins or Bambi

• Games aren’t into instant gratification. They’re all about delayed gratification • Most of the best-selling games of all time have almost no sex or violence in them • The violent games may generate the most outrage, but the games that people reliably line up to buy are the ones that require the most thinking • Most of the crucial work in games interface design revolves around keeping the players notified of potential rewards available to them, and how much those rewards are currently needed

• When you’re hooked on a game, what draws you in is an elemental form of desire: the desire to see the next thing. • It’s not what you’re thinking about when you’re playing a game; it’s the way that you’re thinking that matters • Far more than books or movies or music, games force you to make decisions • A four-part process for playing a game: Probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink (based on James Paul Gee’s work)

• Continuous partial attention: You’re paying attention, but only partially. • The shows that have made the most demands on their audience have also turned out to be the most lucrative in television history • Multi-threading: when we watch TV, we intuitively track narrative-threads-per-episode as a measure of a given show’s complexity • And all the evidence shows that this standard has been rising steadily over the past two decades

• London cabdrivers had, on average, larger regions of the brain dedicated to spatial memory than the ordinary Londoner (Uni College, London) • The ability to analyse and recall the full range of social r’ships in a large group is just as reliable a predictor of professional success as your uni grades

• The rise of the Internet has challenged our minds in 3 fundamental and related ways: by virtue of being participatory, by forcing users to learn new interfaces, and by creating new channels for social interaction • In just 2 yrs, the number of active bloggers in the US alone has reached the audience size of prime-time network television

• A decade ago, Douglas Rushhoff talked of ‘screenagers’ – the 1st generation that grew up with the assumption that the images on a television screen were supposed to be manipulated; that they weren’t just there for passive consumption • The next generation is carrying that logic to a new extreme: the screen is not just something you manipulate, but something you project your identity onto, a place to work thru the story of your life as it unfolds

• The Sleeper Curve – the steady increase in intellectual rigour and content in the popular culture of the past 3 decades • The most important ingredient of this Sleeper Curve: Time (the Lord Of The Rings trilogy lasts more than 10 hrs)

• The Flynn Effect: In the past 46 years, the American people have gained 13.8 IQ points on average • The effect had gone unnoticed because IQ exams are routinely normalised to ensure than a person of average intelligence scored 100 on the test • A person who tested in the top 10% in the 1920s would be in the bottom one-third for IQ scores today

• Improved education is not responsible for the Flynn Effect • There are some worrying trends in the statistics; but beneath, a strangely encouraging trend continues: Where pure problem-solving is concerned, we’re getting smarter • At the very high end of IQ – the top 2 or 3 percentile – the curve levels off. A Mensa today would not run rings around a Mensa in 1900

• The historical increase grew more dramatic the further the test ventured from skills - like maths or verbal aptitudes – that reflect educational background. • The Flynn Effect is most pronounced on tests that assess ‘fluid intelligence’. These tests often do away with words or numbers, replacing them with questions that rely exclusively on images, testing the subject’s ability to see patterns and complete sequences with elemental shapes and objects

• Recent study on hard-core gamers, occasional gamers, and non-gamers….. • The gaming pop’n turned out to be consistently more social, more confident, and more comfortable solving problems creatively. • They also showed no evidence of reduced attention span compared with non-gamers • Violent crime in US schools had been literally cut in half between 1992 and 2002, dropping from 48 to 24 incidents per 100,000 students

• What we should be celebrating is not the 10 year-old’s mastery of a specific platform – Windows XP, sya, or the Gameboy – but rather their seemingly effortless ability to pick up new platforms on the fly, without so much as a glimpse at a manual. • Make a game too hard, and no one will buy it. Make a game too easy, and no one will buy it. Make a game where challenges evolve along with your skills, and you’ll have a shot at success

• …the blurring of lines between kid and grownup culture: 50 year-olds are devouring Harry Potter; the median age of the video gameplaying audience is 29; meanwhile infants are holding down two virtual jobs to make ends meet with a virtual family in The Sims. • The cultural race to the bottom is a myth; we do not live in a fallen state of cheap pleasures that pale beside the intellectual riches of yesterday. • The great unsung story of our culture today is how many welcome trends are going up.


				
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posted:11/8/2009
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