I'm 36 years old. My first experience with the video game business was neighbors who were wealthier than us bringing home an Atari 2600 and playing it. It was a pretty definitive moment for me. I also remember going to school, and on an Apple II, playing a game called "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" an awesome game, which was the first time I played a game in the school context. When you ask people about the video game business and what's significant, most people think that Atari 2600 is really the nexus, the catalyst of the video game business. But I actually think that "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" is probably the most important video game ever made, principally because it was the first and the last time that parents, teachers and kids all agreed that a video game was awesome.
Now, that was a long time ago. In fact, it was 1987. And it may surprise you to know that "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" continues to be the last substantial giant hit in the entertainment business, despite the fact that it was 1987, which is such an incredibly long time ago, and I'm only 36, so you can do the math. Things are completely different today from what they were. Just as a simple example, in 1987, we thought this guy was kind of crazy. Then we met this dude, who has really changed our perspective on that subject.
Things have changed.
Anti-Bush political humor goes a long way in Western Europe.
So, between 1987 and now, I played a lot of this game called "Civilization," which was designed by a guy named Sid Meier. In fact, I spent about 8- to 10,000 hours of my life playing "Civilization," which is a long time I probably should have spent studying. But nonetheless, I managed to turn this love of video games into a job, first working on the Game Developers Conference, helping to start the first successful digital distribution company in games, called Trymedia, and then now, writing the Gamification blog. I'm author of two books on the subject of gamification, including the recent "Gamification by Design," published by O'Reilly. And I chair the Gamification Summit, which is an event that brings all this stuff together. So in many ways, I am parents' dream of how somebody can turn a sedentary lifestyle of playing video games into an actual career that pays real money.
So when I get invited to an event like this, I'm sure that all of you expect me to get up here and say, "Games are awesome for your children." Right? Because I'm a games guy and this is how I make my living.
Games will help children. But instead, I want to ask you a different question, which is: Really, who needs games help?
I started this process by thinking about reading a particular article in the New York Times recently. In the article, a neuroscientist was talking about how children were presenting themselves with attention deficit disorder. Their parents would come in and say, "My kids can't possibly have ADD, because they're super good at focusing on video games, But when they go to school, they're really bad." The neuroscientist was debunking this idea in the article. She trotted out researchers like Dr Christopher Lucas at NYU, who said games don't teach the right kind of attention skills where kids have sustained attention, where they're not receiving regular rewards. And she trotted out experts like Dr Dimitri Christakis at the University of Washington, who said that kids who play a lot of video games may find the real world unpalatable or uninteresting, as a result of their sensitization to games. So I sat there and thought to myself, I'm scratching my head, is it that our children have ADD, or is our world just too freaking slow for our children to appreciate?
Seriously, consider the picture you're looking at right now, like in my era, even my grandfather's era, sitting down on a Sunday afternoon to read a good book with a cup of tea — I just have to say, I don't think that today's kids are ever going to do that. The evidence is found in the games they play.
Consider the video game "World of Warcraft." When I was growing up, the maximum skill that I was expected to display in a video game was simple hand-eye coordination, a joystick and a firing button. Today's kids play games in which they're expected to chat in text and voice, operate a character, follow long- and short-term objectives, and deal with their parents interrupting them all the time to talk to them.
Kids have to have an extraordinary multitasking skill to be able to achieve things today. We never had to have that.
It turns out things like that actually make you smarter. Research by Arne May et Al at the University of Regensburg in Germany found that when they gave participants — this was actually done on adults — a simple task to learn, like juggling, in 12 weeks, people who were asked to learn juggling displayed a marked increase in gray matter in their brain. On an MRI, you can see people get more gray matter after 12 weeks of learning juggling. In 2008, they went back and redid the study to see why the gray matter increased. They discovered it was the act of learning that produced the increased brain matter, not performance at the activity itself, which is a very interesting finding. It also reinforced this idea, which should go over well here as well, that multilingual people outperform monolingual people on most standardized tests by about 15%. There's something that happens in the brain from that kind of activity.
Andrea Kuszewski, speaking at Harvard, talked about these five things that people do to increase their grey matter and to teach themselves to increase their fluid intelligence. "Fluid intelligence" is the intelligence we use to problem-solve. It's different from crystalline intelligence, it helps us problem-solve. She identified, from the research, that there were five things you could do: seek novelty, challenge yourself, think creatively, do things the hard way and network. Think about those five things. Any of you play video games? Does it resemble the basic pattern of a video game to you in any way? These are five things that recur in all very successful video games. It also is connected to a constant and exponential increase in learning. Video games fundamentally present a continuous process of learning to users. They don't just learn for a little while and then stop. They're constantly evolving and moving forward.
It may, in fact, help us to explain the Flynn effect, finally. The "Flynn effect," for those of you who don't know, is the pattern that human intelligence is actually rising over time. So if we look at the history of IQ, people, in fact, are getting smarter. In the US right now, average IQ is rising at .36 points of IQ per year. What's been very interesting is that in some countries — not to call anyone out, but Denmark and Norway — in some countries, overall crystalline IQ has stopped or slowed down or declined. In other countries, though, particularly when looking at fluid IQ, fluid intelligence, the number is increasing, and the rate of fluid intelligence increase is increasing, starting in the 1990s. Coincidence? I think not.
In fact, games are wired to produce a particular kind of reaction in people. So we've got this learning brain increase, multitasking brain increase connection, and we also have a strong dopamine loop in the brain. As games present a challenge, and you struggle to achieve that challenge and you overcome it, dopamine is released in your brain. And that produces an intrinsic reinforcement. In the words of Judy, that produces an intrinsic reinforcement that causes you to go back and keep seeking that activity over and over again. So this is really powerful stuff.
I want to introduce you to an educator who understands this in intricate detail, named Ananth Pai. Ananth was a very successful businessperson who worked on process reengineering. When his kids went into school in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, he saw the education system and decided he wanted to do something about it. So as an adult, he went back and got a master's in [Education] and took over a class at White Bear Lake Elementary School. Ananth Pai replaced the standard curriculum with a video game based curriculum of his own design, separating the kids into leaning styles and giving them Nintendo DS's and computer games — everything off the shelf, nothing custom — giving them Nintendo DS's and computer games that were both individual and social to play, that taught them math and language.
Let me tell you what happened. In the space of 18 weeks, Mr. Pai's class went from a below-3rd-grade level in reading and math to a mid-4th-grade level in reading and math. In 18 weeks of a game-based curriculum. More importantly, when you talk to the children, when they're interviewed on television, even away from Mr. Pai, they say two things over and over again, that help them learn in his class: learning is fun, and learning is multiplayer. Whether they use those exact words or not, they say learning is fun and learning is multiplayer. This is the key to making that experience really successful for kids.
It's also true, though, that we need to talk about the relationship between kids and violence in games. Study after study very clearly tells you that violent games do not make children violent. We also must acknowledge, however, that if you have a child predisposed to violence, violent games may help make them a better violent child. If they train kids to do other things, they also will train that, and we need to accept that, and we need to start understanding the connection between games as a form of training. We can't blanket-say that they don't affect kids. It's not true.
I'd like to call the group of people who are driving this trend forward "Generation G." There are 126 million millennials in the United States and the EU, plus younger kids we can't yet count, that form Generation G. And the way that Generation G is different from X, Y, and all the different generations that we may belong to, is that video games are the primary form of entertainment that Generation G is consuming. It is their primary form of entertainment. This is already starting to have a tremendous effect on society. All around us, Generation G's desire for game-like experiences is reshaping industries, from Foursquare, which caused the mobile social networking ecosystem to start, to companies like Nike, Coke, Chase, and also Kozinga, which owes much of its success to games.
The trend that underlies this whole pattern is called "gamification." It's a word that many of you, I'm sure, have heard. A simple definition of gamification is it's the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. Part of the reason gamification has become such an emergent topic right now is because of Generation G's effect on culture and society already. Their expectations are different.
Some examples of gamification that you may have seen that are really fascinating to me are the emergence of in-dash[board] games in cars. Today, if you buy a hybrid or an electric vehicle, you'll almost certainly see the product of a hundred million dollars' worth of tooling and research and development, in the form of a Tamagotchi-style game, in a dashboard designed to make you a more ecological driver. Most of the game mechanics are very simple: a plant grows as you drive more ecologically and withers if you don't, like those virtual pets Tamagotchi. This is an example of gamification at work.
Another really interesting example is a thing called "speed camera lottery," designed by Kevin Richardson, based in San Francisco, works for MTV. Awesome guy. This is the concept in speed camera lottery: you know those speeding cameras that you pass by, and they take your picture and send you a ticket? In many Scandinavian countries, the ticket you get is actually based not only on how fast you were going, but how much money you make: the more you make, the bigger the ticket. Kevin reengineered a speeding camera in Sweden that instead of just giving tickets to people who drive over the speed limit that pass the camera, anybody who drives under the limit is entered into a lottery to win the proceeds of the people who speed.
It is game thinking — that term I described earlier, the core foundation of gamification — in its purest and most beautiful form: take a big, negative reinforcement loop and turn it into small, incremental positive reinforcement loop. It had the effect of dropping speed by over 20% at that point of intervention.
Corporations have also become aware of the trend of gamification and the effect of games on people like Generation G. Gartner Group says that by 2015, 70% of all the Global 2000, the biggest companies in the world, will be actively using gamification, and 50% of their process of innovation will be gamified, which is an astonishing thing. It's a huge change.
What this all points to is a future that looks pretty different from the world we live in today. Generation G and those driving the gamification meme forward, are advocating for a different world. It's a world in which things move at faster pace than they did for you and me. It's a world in which there are rewards everywhere for actions that people take. The rewards don't always have to be cash rewards. They can be meaningful status rewards, meaningful access rewards, meaningful power rewards. A world in which there's extensive collaborative play. This is one of the things that Generation G does so much differently than even my generation. I remember going to school and teachers struggling to come up with exercises that we could do as a team, that would be graded as a team. In the end, those group exercises always boiled down to an individual score, which distorted the way that people behaved. But, Generation G plays a lot of games that are purely collaborative, in which there is group value. This will also affect our world in untold ways.
And, Generation G, the fun future, is a much more global world. It turns out that we are already out of touch. We are the generation most out of touch with our future or current children than any generation in history. We like to think that baby boomers' parents were the most out-of-touch people in the world. They're the ones who had to deal with the summer of love and sex and drugs and all that kind of stuff. We still make phone calls.
I mean, we are the ones with the problem, and we are going to be the most out-of-touch generation in history. Of course, it's also true, and I'm here to tell you: the kids are alright. They're going to be just fine. We don't need to worry, strictly speaking, about kids and games, and the effect that it will have on the world. Not just are the kids are going to be alright; frankly, the kids are going to be awesome. But it's going to take your help to make the kids awesome.
I have a prescription for you. This is the best prescription anybody is ever going to write in your life. I'm going to write it for you right now, in your mind, I don't have an actual pad. Just for clarity, a disclaimer: I'm not a doctor.
I am, however, going to write a prescription for you all. This is the prescription: if you have children or you work with children, or you desire to work with children, or you want to change he world, this is the absolute, positive best thing that you can do with your time, from now until I see you in the retirement home on the coast of Spain or in the virtual world, wherever you choose to retire, which is: get into the game with your kids. Stop fighting the game trend, if that's where you are right now. Don't fight the game trend. Become one with the game. Enter the game. Understand it. Understand the dynamic of how your children play the games that they play. Understand how their minds work from the context of the game outward, rather than from the world outside inward.
The world that we live in right now, the world of Sunday afternoons, drinking a cup of herbal tea, reading some old book, chilling out by the window, is over.
And that's okay. There's a lot more things that we can do that are fun and engaging. If you take away one thing from today's presentation, I hope it is you get a chance to go play with your kids.