Michael Soldati’s Gaming and the 21st Century speech to the Keene Kiwanis Club 1/27/10

Good Morning everybody and thank you so much for inviting me.  I am one of your many, local Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in service to America) I work over at the Keene Public Library up in the Youth department working with teens as the Gaming and 21st Century Skills VISTA.  What do I really want to say to you our local Kiwanis Club?

Your goal with Kiwanis is to change the world for the better one child at a time, one community at a time is it not?  Then we have the same vision.  I am here today to herald the world of tomorrow, to inform you of the future of how our children will learn to operate in this fast paced evolutionary step in the ongoing human process.  To further explore this however I will need to start at the beginning.  I recall seeing a computer for the first time when I was 3 or 4 or so and this really cool game called Kid Cutz where you could digitally paint all kinds of pictures and scenes with a click of the mouse. Shortly thereafter I recall my father bringing home the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and games like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda where suddenly I was the hero instead of some other guy like I would read in my Fairy Tales (Which by the way I love Fairy Tales).  This is important to note, because I am (arguably) the last of a dying breed of which each and every one of you are also part of.  We are digital immigrants.  Though I, and those of my generation lie upon the cusp of this new epoch in human development, we nevertheless recall a time when you called someone’s house not their pocket, information was found in books and you learned what was new about the world in newspapers, mail was written by hand and took a few days, several depending on where it was going, to get there.  You shopped locally or you found a catalogue to order from.  If you wanted to listen to music you had to put on a record and you had to listen to the whole thing, eventually CDs let you skip tracks, but always large stacks, or you listened to the radio.  I loved the radio as a child, grew up listening to the likes of Kasey Kasem and Rick Dees, I worked for WKNH across the street for three years eventually as the General Manager, I still DJ there every Thursday night.

However-

This is the world of yesteryear, though it is not so far gone that I at the age of 23 cannot remember it. 

Today however we have children whom have never known a world that was not completely interconnected via the internet.  Our children are growing up in a world where the concept of an Instant Message is taken for granted, in fact it’s old hat, because now they can message one another instantly, from anywhere to anyone at anytime with anything.  I see 6 year olds with cell phones, and they text faster than I can even believe.  Our children today have, literally at their fingertips, more information than any of our predecessors have ever had available to them regardless of time, geography or social class ever- combined.  It is a completely different world for our children, these digital natives, for they are embarking on the journey of life as we as a human race are embarking on the swift upward curve in our exponential growth.  As we adults struggle to constantly assimilate ourselves into the next innovation, and into constantly higher levels of organization and vibration, to our children this appears as natural as a swiftly flowing river.  However it is imperative that we allow them the proper space and tools to work within and further build this new cultural construct.

That’s where I come… to some degree.  Well, let me take it back a few steps.  I know I told you about my first experiences with technology, but that’s like a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg…  I feel I need to come clean about something here.  I’m a gamer…  I have been since the day I saw that cool game Kid Cuts, since the day my dad brought home that NES, I remember the day I got each and every new game console, as though it were a birthday to mark some new period of my life, and indeed it did. 

By the third grade my father purchased a Super Nintendo for me for Christmas, 5th grade would bring the N64, 6th grade I saved up my pennies from my paper route with my little brother to buy a Sony Playstation and later received a hand-me-down Christmas present of my elder brother’s PS2.  I’ve had a number of handheld systems, and now I find myself with a Nintendo Wii.  Growing up I would steal my brother’s Nintendo Power magazine and read them cover to cover, I now read Game Informer and online publications.  My most cherished games find themselves mostly as action/adventure or RPG’s such as Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mega Man not to mention the Mario Bros.  For almost a year leading up to Super Smash Bros. Brawl I read their daily updates of content to be for the game on their official site, staying up until 2am sometimes when the site plugged in the new updates.  In fact, I attempted to take stock of every game I have ever played and in one sitting of trying to remember them all I came up with 147 games across 19 different platforms from Atari to the PS# from my early 90’s Mac to my ipod touch.  However this number still does not even begin to approach the real number of games that I have played, it is perhaps closer to if not well over, 200 games, and perhaps a few more platforms.  If I played each of these games for 5 hours each, I would be one tenth of the way towards Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours from his book “Outliers”.  However even this is largely inaccurate for some of these games I have put down only after an hour or two and never played again, and yet some I have maxed out the in-game clock at 99 hours and 99 minutes, not to mention playing through multiple games multiple times. 

    To me a good video game is like reading a good book, and indeed I often do a lot of reading within a game, especially with earlier consoles.  It is a world I can more fully explore and take part in.  Rather than engaging my visual imagination as a book might, the game allows me to take part in it’s telling, using my imagination to choose a path of dark or light of good or of evil and to play these parts as an actor might upon a stage, to explore these causes and effects, a series of choices and consequences, with responsibilities that are as real to my character and my party as any real life choice might be to myself.  But like any bookworm these stories kept me hidden from the rest of the world.  While my friends took up music and studied instruments and voice I was busy bartering for better prices on that new suit of armor, while other friends took up sports and honed their skills I was training my dragoon to jump farther and higher for more damage, while some volunteered their time and helped out their community, I was saving the world in a closet.  And yet in working for the KPL youth department, and delving even deeper into the world of gaming, I find I have not wasted my time as so many of my friends and family have led me to believe throughout my life, as popular culture would have us think.  Through my research here at the Keene Public Library I have found for myself inspiration and empowerment, which just might be the key to a fuller life and greater understanding of the modern world for ourselves, our children and the gamer.

Research is coming to light that many video game experiences can provide tremendous benefits to it’s players.  Popular Science

The American College and Research Libraries (ACRL) have put together what is called “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.”  But what is Information Literacy exactly?  Well as the ACRL puts it:

“Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” 1 Information literacy also is increasingly important in the contemporary environment of rapid technological change and proliferating information resources. Because of the escalating complexity of this environment, individuals are faced with diverse, abundant information choices–in their academic studies, in the workplace, and in their personal lives.”

Or more simply put: “Information Literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning” which what greater gift could we possibly give our youth?  Surprisingly Video Games lend themselves quite well with some of the standards that the ACRL has put forth.

Standard One

“The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.”

              This comes down to basic game play for most RPG’s or adventure games, I must retrieve information from my environment to figure out where my next step is, making decisions based on what information is more important given our particular goal, I can choose within the game world to complete the game 100% but perhaps that Demon’s Bane Sword really isn’t worth the trouble given my current quest.  Often acquiring this information means going beyond the information provided within the game itself and searching out guides, walkthroughs, cheats and the like.

Standard Two

“The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.”

              This perhaps is clearer in looking at FPS games (First Person Shooters like Halo or Call of Duty) where assessing current information and information gaps are a matter of life and death.  Players process these information gaps (AKA: where’s my opponent, what is he packing, does he have friends?) and cross reference them with information they currently have (AKA: I heard a sniper rifle round go off, I have 4 plasma grenades, I have only have a pistol) to produce real time decision making and strategizing.

Standard Four

“The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose”

              With the amount of online play, multiplayer and social gaming, this sees a great deal of development and bares significant importance because it allows gamers to put the skills they have developed and their ability to process information to the test by placing them in a competitive arena or working towards a common goal as a peer to peer relationship rather than a gamer to game relationship.  Through this process they can learn even more just by naturally working off of one another and providing feedback to each other as well.

So what are we doing at the Keene Public Library?

We held two tournaments in the Fall one for Super Smash Bros. Brawl and one for Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Cards.  During the SSBB Tournament we had three events one of which was team battles.  I made a mistake with some of the prizes so we only had one prize between two boys whom placed third, so I told them they could claim prizes from the youth department which has a selection of prizes in stock for such things, and I announced I’d give the odd prize out to whomever could best me in one on one.  Well I got my butt kicked and handed off the prize.  But one of the boys (must have been 10 or so) from the third place team didn’t really like any of the prizes from the library and wanted the odd prize I had given away.  The young man whom bested me in one on one was a little older, and told me the boy could have the prize instead.

We’re starting up an entire season in February of these tournaments.

Every Thursday we hold what we call an Open Play Game Day, in which we merely set out games of all kinds video games, board games, card games, you name and if we got it, we’ll put it out.  And it’s really interesting to note what takes place here.  Certainly cliques form, squabbles over who gets to play what arise, but a community really starts to build and a dialogue opens up between youths of varying ages as they engage in competitive or cooperative play, which often in some of our games is in constant flux.  There are teens that come to my game day, whom are terrible students, couldn’t tell you a thing about geography or science, but they are brilliant tacticians, they formulate strategies and execute them sometimes better than I can, and I’ve been at this for 20 years now.  There are even worse students, that find not only difficulty in their academics but a sense of failure that seems to loom over their entire lives, whose ears prick up and find within themselves a smile and a spark to hear we get to play pretend for awhile and enthusiastically set about performing the same task they might loathe in school under the guise of gaming.  I’ve see older teens helping out younger ones with playing new games.  I watched an entire group of would be so called “hooligans” if you will help a friend’s little sister learn to play checkers.  We’ve had the Keene Senior Center come in, and join in on the fun with the Nintendo Wii, and the sheer delight that crosses their faces amazing and the tremendous support they show for each other and for these youngsters in games as simple as Wii fit or Wii bowling is each and every time a wonder to behold that there is still so much life and joy and care in our elders.

Certainly there are violent video games out there, certainly games can become addicting as anything else in this life can.  But these games can also be used to teach, to inspire, to build communities and successful participants in the game of life.

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