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Do Video Games Make Us Smart?

Last week I participated in a public debate that considered whether technology is making us dumb (e.g. The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein).  I, of course, was tasked with the argument "technology is actually good for us".  Needless to say, it was not an easy task--until I came upon "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steve Johnson.  One of his most compelling arguments has to do with the increasing cognitive demands of video games.  According to Johnson, video games are truly making us smarter.  While that argument is not the most obvious, after spending spring break with my gamer son and a new video game he thought I might "like", I am drawn to agree with him.

Because my son feels like one of his jobs is to train his mother in the intricacies and beauties of living in a high-tech world, he introduced me to a new game he thought might just be my speed--in other words it wasn't very hard, involved cute little aliens, and required very little hand-eye coordination. He got me to the beginning point and said "now, mom...all you have to do is get your guy over the chasm and into the other room.  You may have to replicate the guy and get a jet pack, but that's pretty easy. I'll let you work on it for a few minutes, then I'll come back to see how you are doing." I figured well, I do have a PhD, after all, how hard can this be? After being killed at least 50 times, I yelled at the t.v. screen and declared "I quit!"  I could see the disappointment in my son's eyes.  He showed me how to do a few basic maneuvers and I said "well, you didn't tell me I could do that!"  His response was "mom, you're supposed to figure that out for yourself. That's part of the game."

He was right.  Video games are not for those who want to sit back and tune out intellectually.  Most games are full of cognitive complexity. They require patience and step by step goal setting with layer after layer of problems to be solved.  The gamer has to figure out the rules of the game (the days of things like chess where you know the rules ahead of time are long gone).  He or she has to determine the "physics of the virtual world".  In other words, by trial and error, he or she figures out what it takes to fly, speed, shoot, walk, fight, and stay alive.  According to Johnson, gamers begin by exploring the world; they then define problems, make hypotheses, test them out, revise hypotheses and act upon the findings.  Does that remind you of anything familiar?  That would be the scientific method.  That's right, as our kids are sitting around with controllers in their hands and blank looks on their faces, they are actually refining important problem-solving techniques that have a direct application to real-life issues.

As I was making these arguments in my recent debate, a young man raised his hand and asked if these skills  are really transferable or valuable?  The same could be asked of the types of problems we have students do in math and science classes.  After all, how many times, in real life, will our kids have to figure out if 2 trains left a station 100 miles apart and one traveled 60 mph......?  The point is, we are training our kids how to think.  How is that different than what the video games are doing?

My conclusion? There is ALOT more to video games than what most people assume.  Though they may have addictive powers and may contain violence and lots of well-endowed stereotypical women, they are also challenging our kids to think in ways that are much more significant than checkers or Uno. So the next time you see a kid (or a spouse) sitting and playing a video game, take a breathe before you tell him or her to get off that thing and get a life.  He or she may just be getter smarter with every level that is conquered and every task that is mastered.


The Changing Shape of Scripture: How Technology Impacts Our View of the Bible

I recently attended a lecture by Bible professor Dr. Michael Holmes at Bethel University.  He described how the physical form of the Bible has changed over history.  He left us with a question--how does the form of scripture impact how we use and understand it?  It is a great question highlighted by the attached Youtube video.

Take for example ancient tablets. These things were actual rocks with words carved on the flat surfaces.  Needless to say,  an entire set of writings would be pretty heavy.  As a result, very few communities had access to anything more than part of scripture.  The rest was communicated orally because most people couldn't read anyway. So the question is, how was their faith experience different? 

For one thing, scripture reading and teaching was a corporate event.  Individuals would have to depend on the priest to do the interpretation.  That gave a lot of power to the priest but also emphasized the community over the individual. Could you imagine never having the experience of sitting by yourself in a corner with your Bible and having a nice little quiet time? That contemplation happened in a group and it happened orally.  People had to memorize scripture if they wanted access to it ouside of the Sabbath.  In a certain sense, when someone memorizes and talks through scripture, it seems to stick. An oral approach to scripture certainly has some great benefits.

Once the printing press came, that oral culture began to change.  Individuals suddenly had access to their own Bible. Can you imagine how exciting that would have been to get your very own Bible? The Bible would be a precious thing.  Maybe that meant that each word was more precious than it is today, or maybe it meant that the Bible itself became something so precious it wasn't to be touched and certainly didn't apply to the trivial and dirty things of everyday life. The biggest change was that scripture reading became an individual event.  Individuals could read and interpret things on their own. It is possible that this one piece of technology did more than anything to move Christianity from a corporate to an individual experience.

So where does that leave us today? With the iPhone, we can read the Bible anytime and anywhere.  With Google and sites like, we have access to information about exegesis, archeology, history, translations, and various interpretations--all at our fingertips.  These new technologies certainly help us become more informed consumers of scripture.  I wonder, however, if they might not add to the fragmentation that seems to exemplify our culture. I know when I read my daily devotional, I often neglect to read more than a small passage.  I rarely put it in context with the overall flow of the entire scripture. It is also possible that when reading scripture takes the same form as Googling good Italian restaurants, the reverance of the Bible is lost. On the other hand, because the Bible travels with us, perhaps it will ultimately become more part of us. We don't have to stop and have a preplanned daily devotional time, we can have devotional time whenever we have a few minutes. Perhaps, as referenced in the Youtube video, the technology will just get in the way of the message. When it comes down to it, the Bible is an inherently text-based medium.  As our culture moves more toward images, I wonder how that will effect the discipline of daily reading and memorizing of words. Perhaps the ideas rather than the actual words will become more important.  Perhaps the stories will be more emphasized than the doctrine.

According to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message.  If that is the case, the form the Bible takes really does make a difference. 

So where do you think we are headed?