Gabe Zichermann on Gamification at TEDxKids@Brussels (Full Transcript)

Gabe Zichermann

Following is the full transcript of Gabe Zichermann’s TEDx Talk on Gamification at TEDxKids@Brussels.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Gabe Zichermann on Gamification at TEDxKids@Brussels

Gabe Zichermann – Gamification expert

So, I’m 36 years old. And my first experience with the video game business was neighbors, who were wealthier than us, bringing home an Atari 2600 and playing it. And it was a pretty definitive moment for me.

I also remember going to school, and on an Apple tube, playing a game called “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego”, an awesome game, which was the first time I played the game kind of in the school context. When you ask most people about the video game business and what’s significant, most people think that Atari 2600 is really the next, the catalyst of the video game business. But I actually think that “Wherein the World is Carmen San Diego” 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 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 San Diego” 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 am only 36. You can do the math. That things are complete 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’s really changed our perspective on that subject. Things have changed. Anti-Bush political humor goes a long way in Western Europe. Okay.

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 8,000 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 Gamification Blog. I’m the author of two books on the subject of Gamification, including the recent Gamification by Design“, published by O’Reilly. And, I chaired Gamification Summit, which is an event that brings all the stuff together.

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So, in many ways, I’m parents’ sort of dreams of how somebody can turn a sedentary lifestyle, playing video games, into an actual career that pays real money. And 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 game’s 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 game’s help. And so I started this process by thinking about reading a particular article in the New York Times recently. And in the article, a neuroscientist was talking about how children were presenting themselves with attention deficit disorder. And their parents would come in and they’d say, “My kids can’t possibly have ADD, because they’re super super good at focusing on video games.” But when they go to school, they are really bad. And the neuroscientist was debunking this idea right 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, right? 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, uninteresting, as a result of their sensitization of games.

And so I sat there and I thought to myself, scratching my head, and I thought to myself. Is it that our children have ADD or is our world just too freaking slow for our children to appreciate? Seriously, consider – consider the picture you’re looking at right now, like in my era, even in my grandfather’s era, sitting down on a Sunday afternoon to read a good book with a cup of tea, like I just have to say, I don’t think that today’s kids are ever going to do that. And the evidence is found in the games that they play.

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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 in voice, operate a character, follow long- and short-term objectives, and deal with their parents’ interrupting them all the time and 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 at University Regensburg in Germany found that when they gave participants — and this was actually done on adults — 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 matters after 12 weeks of learning juggling. And in 2008, they went back and redid the study to see why the gray matters increased. And they discovered it was the act of learning that produces the increased gray matter, not performing at the activity itself, which is a very very interesting finding.

It also may reinforce this idea, which should go very well here as well, that multi-lingual people outperform mono-lingual people on most standardized test by about 15%. There’s something that happens in the brain from that kind of activity.

And Andrea Kuszewski, speaking at Harvard, talked about these five things that people do to increase their brain matter to teach themselves, to increase their fluid intelligence. And fluid intelligence is the intelligence we use to problem solve. It’s different from crystalline intelligence. It helps us problem solve. And she identified from the research that there are 5 things you could do: seek novelty, challenge yourself, think creatively, do things the hard way, and network.

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Think about those 5 things. Any of you play video games? Does it resemble the basic pattern of a video game to you in any way? These are 5 things that recur in all very successful video games. And it also was 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. And the Flynn Effect, for those you 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 0.36 points of IQ per year. Now, 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.

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