Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

8 March 2006

Everything bad *can be* good for you

Clark @ 2:39 PM

Yesterday at the Training 2006 conference (sorry for the break, but Disney’s internet plan is too silly, and Sprint’s new upgrade is too restrictive) I heard Stephen Johnson (author of “Everything Bad is Good For You”) make a compelling case for the thinking skills required to successfully play computer games. His argument is that playing such games develops new and necessary skills like systems-thinking and systematicity (both of which I support as curricular items).

I agree that such games require them, but not that they develop them. I cited two data points in a question to him: that there’s much evidence that kids ask around for solutions rather than solving the problems, and normally reflective kids will turn ‘twitch’ in the presence of a computer game. He responded well that they’ll only ask about the tough questions, and (I hope I’m recalling correctly) that there are some concerns about twitch but you can’t succeed well in the complexity of modern games without reflection.

Both true, but they sort of avoid the point. I’m willing to wear that (some) kids will develop such skills, but I also want to suggest that they won’t develop and transfer without support. Parents/mentors have to be involved until we build problem-solving coaching into the games (and we can, but that’s another story).


  1. Hi Clark,

    I posted a brief response to your post over on my blog at:


    I think we may be in complete agreement, but I also felt that Stephen needed a little more balanced coverage.

    I’m curious from your post if you didn’t find his presentation quite thought provoking in any case?


    Comment by Tony Karrer — 9 March 2006 @ 6:09 AM

  2. Tony, you’re right that I didn’t give Stephen fair coverage (though I did say I found his story compelling), giving the (very) condensed version of his argument.

    It’s just that I feel there’s too much of a zeitgeist around “if they play it, they will learn”, and that’s not a safe assumption. I really feel we need to emphasize a role in deliberately inculcating thinking skills, not just assuming they’ll develop (lots of counter evidence). And lots of evidence that we can.

    And, yes, I did find his presentation thought provoking and liked it.

    (Wish you’d introduced yourself after the session!)

    Comment by Clark — 10 March 2006 @ 10:29 AM

  3. Clark,

    I would have introduced myself, but I didn’t know it was you asking the question until I saw your post. Lost opportnity. Hopefully the next time.

    I would completely agree with you about the “if they play it, they will learn” thinking. And, in fact, my recent post about topics at Training 2006 showed how “games” is the the hot topic this year. Yet, many of the games are things like game shows where the research I’ve seen suggests that it probably is not a conducive to helping recall in a work environment. On the other hand, there are some good game or game-like designs that do promote learning (story-tree simulations).

    So, unfortunately, we are now in resounding agreement and will have to look for something else to talk about. :)

    Comment by Tony Karrer — 10 March 2006 @ 2:44 PM

  4. Ice cream is good for kids. Too much diminishes the good.
    Clark’s points are right, games alone may not involve kids in systems thinking, especially if they can play through a get unplanned success.
    Example: How many adults play gambling games with modest or no systems thinking.

    Time for reflection is necessary. Games need also to link to other aps for transference.

    Re: Lost. Though I do not watch tv, the Lost link Tony provided is interesting.
    One of the points associated with reality tv is its low cost due to no script writing and no actors learning lines.
    The Lost analysis struck me as an attempt to reverse engineer a script from the random footage taken by the reality tv crew. Creating stories takes imagination but does not make a compelling case for teaching systems thinking.

    Question: Is there a game where Clark’s issue might be explored? It might be a branch decision tree that tracks users’ paths. Various options could be created like a multiple choice test and the system thinking option(s) tallied. I suspect many players push thru w/o real analysis.



    Comment by Mark Edwards — 12 March 2006 @ 7:58 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress