Adult Video Gamer

adultvideogamer-1Think of a 45 year old man playing a video game.

Do you have a specific image in mind? If you, yourself are not particularly into video games, you might have a specific image of someone who is not particularly successful in life. If he has a job or family, he’s probably not very successful in either activity.

Right?

Gamers know the answer to this one. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Here’s a dirty little secret about gaming. If you pick the right games, you’re training your brain to think along certain pathways.

I first encountered this phenomenon when I was playing Sid Meyer’s Civilization II. The premise of the game is to build a civilization from the Mud Hut stage to Space Flight. Think of developing technology. Think of how the terrain and available resources effect that. (Can’t make steel without carbon and iron, right?)

I mean, if you have a decent education, you already know it. You’ve been exposed to that fact. But chances are very good unless you’re involved in making metal objects you haven’t used that random knowledge, so it’s not something you’ll immediately think of as part of an intuitive process.

So what? I hear you asking.

Well… Knowledge isn’t useful unless you have the habit of accessing it outside of its acquisition environment. In human speech, learning Stop Drop and Roll in first grade doesn’t do much unless you’re going to remember that if you see someone catch fire at a picnic or something.

If you use something in a game, your mental pathways retain that.

I self-published a fantasy novel some years ago. When people gave feedback on it and were trying to be nice, the one common thread was how realistically the world worked. When I was doing the development work on it, a partner of mine at the time saw me swearing over a map I was drawing and suggested, “Play Civ.”

He was quite right. It worked very well, and having the many, many hours I spent playing that game opening the neural pathways to the integration of terrain and politics did, indeed, help me build a world that worked realistically and drove political conflict very logically. (Not that I can plot for crap, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It doesn’t just help creative work, though.

I work at a help desk. I was getting in early, so I was often the only person there to help someone to pick up a computer. Now, if it’s a laptop in a public area that isn’t locked down, we do have a cable lock on those computers. In reality, all I needed to do was hand this person a computer. But it was locked, and I didn’t know which key was the laptop lock. I could have tried individual keys from a ring I had access to. I would have gotten to the appropriate one easily enough, albeit with some fumbling.

But what I did, and this is because I had been playing a game called The Room, was look at the shape of the lock and then at the shape of the keys on the keyring. Got the key right away, first try. The customer had no idea that I had no idea which key to use or how to unlock her computer.

Trivial? Sure.

But to me it was illustrative of the value of video games and how they integrate the kinetic aspects of learning with the purely informational. It’s also why I hate lecture-based classes over hands-on classes for things that will ultimately have a kinetic component.

Back to Normal…sort of

I’m coming down from a really serious six week project.  I was asked if I could teach a class in social networking, said yes, then had to develop the course.

So now, I need to cast around for more work.  Part of the work I’m going to create is going to be teaching versions of this class — bits and pieces as seminars and continuing education classes for teachers who might find themselves a bit overwhelmed by the new ways their students communicate and want to keep up.  (Hey, I live in an area that has an old Ivy League institution.  Keeping up with what Those Crazy Young People are doing is important).

I’m also reeling from the idea that I taught something I developed myself.  You old hands at teaching can feel free to laugh.  You guys do it all the time.  I had never gotten up in front of a classroom without the backup of a course someone else had developed before.

Now, as intimidating as it was (and yes, I was scared), I love to learn stuff, and I love to teach stuff.  I could happily spend the rest of my life making a living going and learning something and then teaching it.  It’s just fun.

“Learn stuff?” I hear you ask. “You’ve gotta be kidding me!  You’ve been doing online social networking for nearly fifteen years! What’s this nonsense about learning stuff?”

Well, there’s a big difference between doing something for years, and organizing the concepts clearly enough to teach that same material in a finite amount of time.  Not only that, you tend to fall into a routine, so it’s a good idea to find out what other people are saying on the subject.  When you do that, you will learn something new.

So, today I’m back to bidding on projects and working hard on breaking down the one-day seminar to smaller time units for potential classes.

Lectures and Classes

I gave a talk on Search Engine Optimization and Content Management Systems at Lebanon College yesterday.   Yeah, I know, the topic was a little too broad for an hour’s lecture.   But it was a decent overview.  greendalekgreendalek said that it got his students excited and engaged for the rest of the class, so I think I did okay.  I’m glad I brought my computer, though.  I’d brought the Powerpoint presentation on a memory stick, and I found that the software on the drive interfered with the computer at the school seeing the files on the drive, confound it.  So we just plugged my netbook into the projector and I did the lecture from that.

If anyone was wondering about Powerpoint presentations and netbooks, I can say that mine (minimal animation, no animated media and no sound) did just fine for the talk.  I think I want a wireless slide advance thingie (how’s that for a technical term?) for the next time I do a lecture.  I prefer to stand in the front of the class.

It makes me more comfortable for the social networking class.   Most of the teach I’ve done has been exercise-based.  While I’ll have several exercises in the class, it’s going to be mostly lecture-based, and I was wondering how I’d do for lecturing without talking people through physical exercises.

It’s funny how perspective can change. I used to marvel at people who could speak “spontaneously” and fluidly on topics.   I ran across a comment once in Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein that sounding spontaneous is often a matter of careful preparation.  That’s so true.  I kept track of how long I spent prepping for that talk.   I spent just shy of eight hours for a one hour talk — and that was on a subject I knew pretty well.  Now, if I give the talk again, it’s unlikely that I’ll spend more than an hour and a half or so reviewing and tweaking.

Still, it was fun.  I find that I almost always learn more about a subject just from researching for lectures.   *chuckles* and looking at this pile of books on various elements of social networking and online interaction at my elbow, I expect I’ll experience the same thing in my class come January.

Swim today.  You know how not all workouts feel glorious?

This one did feel wonderful.  I had my groove on.  Other than counting laps, I didn’t think about anything while I was swimming.  Usually I work out stuff I’m going to write, or try to chew on a problem to see if I can solve it.  Today, because I’m teaching a class in Word, I had to get my swim in quite early in the morning.  I don’t think my brain had turned on yet, even if the sun was up.

I shared a lane with a guy who likes to do pullups on the starting blocks at the end of every few laps.  I notice that’s a popular thing for some swimmers to do.  Tempted to try it to see if I can.  With the support of starting half in the water, it might be possible.  And fun, if I manage it.  I doubt I’ll make that much of a part of my swimming routine, though, other than variety.

I had a good class yesterday.  The students were interested and involved.  God, I love it when that happens.  I suspect part of it was that I really like that particular class  (Advanced Excel).   It’s moderately geeky, and there’s more room to play and explore than with the other classes.

What was really nice was that I think I’ve convinced one of my students to experiment more.  Every time he’d ask, “What’ll happen if I do <foo>?”  I’d reply, “Try it.”

Sometimes it was because I didn’t know, honestly.  But sometimes it was because I really like to get my students into the habit of exploring.

Today I’m teaching Intermediate Word.  For me, it’s not as exciting a class.  I mean, I like it well enough, and it’s a nice change from endlessly teaching Excel (which is the bulk of what I do for teaching).  But it’s kind of routine unless I get a group for whom the material is somehow exciting.   Then it’s a lot of fun, but that’s true of any class.

‘Course, any teacher will now tell me that figuring out a way to generate excitement and enthusiasm up front is the way to go with this.  And they’d be right!  There are some games I sometimes come up with that even the adults like.  I’ve used one where every time I misuse a term and a student spots it, they get a point.  Believe it or not, this gets them paying attention.  You’d think it wouldn’t but it does.  I came up with it one day when I taught after being up all night in the hospital with a child.  It was for me to stay focused, but it generated some interest for the class, and the mutual focus wound up making it an excellent class.

Musing

My job is to learn stuff and tell people about it — more or less, anyway.

When I was a young kid, the professions I fantasized about (Paleontologist and Marine Biologist) certainly had that quality to a degree.

Between the ages of 12 and 15 or so, I wanted to be an actor.

During all of that — say from the time I was 12, I was also writing. I didn’t think of it so much in terms of work. I just… did it. It just felt natural to put thoughts on paper and play with them until they communicated something.

The first “serious” piece I wrote was a script for the Dukes of Hazzard. It was bad. Okay, no…it wasn’t bad. It was appalling. I tried some ten years later to write a script for Star Trek: The Next Generation. My husband at the time still has flashbacks from having to live with me through that.

Not long after that, I got a job — a work for hire deal, writing a manual on how to open a business. I remember clearly writing it and being scared because it was “too quirky” and was wondering if it would work or if I’d piss off my client. This was before the “For Dummies” manuals became as popular as they are, but it was written in that chatty style. In school, I always got fussed at for turning in chatty work. (I know, you can’t write like that academically!) But I used to get mad because it felt right somehow when I would write it. I really wish one of my teachers had pulled me aside and explained that chatty had its genuine and real place.

He liked it.

Why I didn’t pursue that at the time, I do not know. Part of it was that I wanted to write fiction. Honestly? I’m a hell of a lot better at non-fiction — teaching someone how to do something or poking at an illogical thought directly.

I wish I knew why. It kind of depresses me. I feel like Salieri when I read really good, moving epic pieces. And I don’t write epic well.

Maybe I oughta take a page from John Varley’s writing style. He makes it work. I just don’t see how I could write Stoneflower from a first person perspective and make it work.

The first novel I ever wrote was in the style of Heinlein’s Number of the Beast — shifting first person. It was easier to write, but I don’t think there’s any way in hell I could live some of the characters in Stoneflower for the time required to write them first person.

Why I Do It

Just got back from my swim for today.

I skipped yesterday because I was going to be on my feet all day teaching and I figured I didn’t want to be too tired.

Feh. I’m sorry I chose that. Not that it’s not possible to get too tired. It is. Not that is it not sometimes wise to pick and choose daily activities to keep from overtaxing yourself. It is. But I was tired and spazzed last night, and I think that if I’d gotten up and taken my swim, I just would have been tired.

The simple fact of the matter is that when I swim most days, I am clearer-headed and have calmer energy throughout the day.

I don’t swim to get skinny. I’ve been swimming for a year and a half and I ain’t skinny, nor even “not overweight”.

I swim because A) It feels good and B) I’m clear-headed and relaxed after one.

I did have a long and exhausting day yesterday, and had promised myself I was going to work from bed all day, only leaving it to swim.

Changed my mind and moved to my writin’ chair after my swim today. It’s a sunny day, my living room has lots of windows and I propose to enjoy it while I work. Also, wanna bake some bread and I’d rather be working where I can actually hear the kitchen timer. I think it felt like some sort of mental dissonance to be working in bed once I got dressed.