Gamers Will Save Our Economy

For children growing up today, gaming may be more important than mastering math. It is not only about mastering a skill, but most of all about finding alternatives and re-inventing the rules.

In a previous post I have argued that the internet is not making us stupid, and I even claimed that the contrary may be true: there is evidence that the internet is making us more intelligent.

The same is true for gaming and learning.

What’s So Special About Games?

‘What a waste of time’ – that’s what I often told myself while I was observing kids playing games and having their attention sucked-up by their Nintendo, Playstation or any other screen. Seemingly numbed by the flickering screen, these games are bleeping their attention into infinity.

I used to think that life is passing them by and that they’d better learned something decent – like math or history.

It was only until recently that I started to ask a different question about gaming: what’s so special about it?

So I started to play some computer games myself, and pretty soon I found out:

  1. that there is excitement and an immense motivation to master the rules of the game as quickly as possible.
  2. I like the instant feedback of a game and I don’t take it personal.
  3. When a game is over I curse once and I eagerly start a new game – without remorse or resentment. The only thing that is on my mind is to do it better than last time.

That’s when I started to think: what if all learning would be like gaming? And what if we could start to look at our daily lives through the lenses of a game-world?

Gaming is Advanced Learning

In the book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith refer to the three methods by which kids relate to games: playing, hacking, and programming.

  • Playing – the first level – involves ‘learning by doing’.  This is nothing else than mastering the rules of the game As the authors put it:

They’re playing the game as it was intended, the way the game designers made it, the way it was originally conceived to be played.

In the beginning you learn by failing a lot, just like falling is part of learning to ride a bike.

  • Hacking – a different word for ‘finding another way around’ – is usually what happens when kids get bored of playing and mastering a game. They want to be challenged again. After a while, hacking gets boring too, so players seek to develop their own quests and build their own games. They turn into programmers.
  • Programming – the ultimate step in this learning cycle – means creating alternative versions of the original game.

As an adult who never gamed the layers of hacking and programming were unknown. Yet, when I look at them from a learning perspective, this is what natural learning is about: compliance to the basic rules is only the first level. After that it gets interesting. However, we were not educated to look any further.

Incrementalism In Vain

Blogger Adam Hartung writes about market place disruption and the need for breaking the holy grail of focusing only on improving what you are doing.

According to him, repeating a past success by making sure you do more of it better, faster and cheaper than anyone else is no longer a safe place.

Competing in 2010 is nothing like competing in 1975. Today the basis of competition can change within months. The above graph makes his point pretty well. Apple demonstrates the value of seeking out new markets.  “The iPad is Already Bigger than the iPod – and Half as Big as the Mac”. That is how fast markets are moving nowadays. And that is why focusing on efficiency like an obsession is a dangerous game to play.

We Desperately Need the Gaming Generation

Too often we find business trying to cope with this “Great Recession” by doing more of what they have always done – hoping customers will for some reason flock to their old way of doing business (i.e. getting better at playing the old game).

Efficiency by itself this isn’t bad or wrong, but often it goes at the expense of looking for different ways to get the same things done (that would be hacking), or even inventing a new market (that would be programming, like the launch of the iPad).

Game Over For Our Generation

Our companies need a different type of learning; the advanced learning of hackers and programmers. Only with a mindset that surpasses ‘getting better at what we did yesterday’ will we be able to compete.

The gamer’s mindset is the only way to keep our economy afloat. And that’s hard for us to swallow. We have been conditioned to think that mastering the rules of the game is the highest level. We got rewarded with degrees. That’s why our kids need to know their math and history. But for their degree to be worth something in practice, it will take tinkering, the skill of finding alternatives, creativity and the guts for re-inventing the game.


I want to thank @ddejonghe for pointing me to the work of Adam Hartung.

  • adam_hartung

    Very interesting application of Phoenix Principle thinking. I like it a lot! Keep up the good work!

  • Interesting Reflection. Thanks!

  • Thank you Adam for these words of encouragement.
    Honored to have you as a commenter on my blog!

  • Pim Vandijck

    A few years ago I attended the congres of about the challenges with the gaming generation. The congres was based upon a study pointing at the advantages of gaming youth eg
    – they create networks all over the world in no time
    – they are creative and are always looking for possibilities (incl short cuts) to go to the next level
    – if they fail, they push “start new game” button and they start trying again instead of moning and groaning like others
    On the other hand they don’t respect superiors because they are older or because they have more experience. The person who is best at the job, should have the lead. They go even further. One day you can be at the top, but the other day somebody can beat you and he takes over. THis hierarchy can change all the time.
    Definitely an intresting topic.
    cheers Pim

  • Thanks!