“My biggest complaint for computer games so far is they are not good enough for adults. For adults to enjoy something, they need to have intellectual stimulation, something that’s related to real life. Playing poker teaches you how to deceive people, and that’s relevant to real life. A headshot with a sniper rifle is not relevant to real life.”

Jenova Chen

As a game designer I can understand that Jenova Chen needs to deceive people more often than he needs to use hand-eye co-ordination, but every high-skill game teaches you something useful. Depressingly, the opposite idea seems ingrained in both designers and critics;

“In more than twice the time it would take to read Tolstoy’s historical fiction, Dark Souls leaves one’s head overflowing with useless junk like the difference in attack stats between a Great Axe with a fire bonus versus a Great Axe with a divine bonus.”

Michael Thomsen

These complaints miss the point like a high school math class. “When am I ever going to need to know the value of X in the real world?” is the wrong question: The important part isn’t the answer you get, but the skills you use to solve the problem.

Like the best games, Dark souls is perfectly calibrated to teach you the skills you need to beat it. By going through the process needed to beat the game, you gain incredible mastery over those skills. In order for that knowledge to be useless, Dark Souls would have to have invented a set of skills used by nothing else in existence. I consider this logically impossible. Mastering any kind of pursuit is relevant to real life, because every possible skill is used by a million other pursuits.

Dark Souls constantly tests your skill by raising its difficulty over a hundred hours – and then keeps raising it above that as much as you want, via the New Game Plus option. Even if you master that, you can match your skills against other human players via PVP. I can’t credit the idea that Tolstoy will teach you more than that. He doesn’t even require you to understand before he lets you pass.

The only type of game that won’t help you solve real-life problems is one that doesn’t have a high skill-ceiling. Games that are easy, have no higher strategy, or focus on art and story. Like Journey.



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About Jack McNamee

In the third year of a game design course in Queensland, Australia. Thinking a whole lot about games. Scrabbling desperately against the oncoming future.
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19 Responses to Skills

  1. mwm says:

    In some situations, it can actually be more helpful than actually learning about a subject.

    I’ll use ‘World War Z’ as an example. At a point about a third way through the book, the American army makes ‘stand’ at Yonkers, which is North of the massive wave of zombies coming from New York. It’s a long list, but, in short, the commanders make numerous blunders, most of which were based around fighting Russians. The generals were caught up in the cold war mentality, and refused to quickly adapt to a new situation.

    Or another, more practical instance. Technical fields are constantly shifting. By the time a 4-year degree is earned, half the knowledge is irrelevant (don’t know the actual number, so I’m using 50%). If these early years were spent on critical math courses, then supplemented by specific knowledge, these workers would actually be more effective in addition to being trained more quickly.

    Video games are also very adept at building a mentality, good or bad. It’s possible that they instill a strong association between effort and reward, or that they create strong analytical and problem-solving skills (I’m thinking from the perspective of a shooter. . This is especially useful if they eventually get burnt out of video games, having developed the good and shedding the bad.

    In short, video games have the potential to shelter a very specific trait, and culture it in a very standardized and simple environment to build up simple thought patterns, then pull that rug and force ‘users’ to dive headlong into life like a character with amnesia (he is already a complete badass, he just doesn’t know that, or where he is), scrambling to put everything together, while realizing that they never quite get there.

    Holy shit.

    Also, seriously enjoying your blog. Have to wonder where your ‘porn stars’ disappeared to.

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