Gaming: Truths & Myths

Jane McGonigalThe thing I’m most passionate about right now is changing how we talk about games and how we talk about gamers.  We have a number of generations who have grown up being told that they have wasted their time or wasted their lives playing games – people like me, who adore games and feel like the best versions of ourselves when we play.  And we’re told that it’s a waste of time, that we should have been doing something else.  Well, we didn’t do something else, and kids today aren’t doing something else.  Kids are playing more hours per week than any generation before.  And instead of just ringing our hands and telling people that what they love is bad for them, I think we need to change that message.  We need to look at what games are doing for gamers, the skills that we’re developing, the relationships that we’re forming, the heroic qualities that we get to practice every time we play, like resilience, like perseverance, and grit, and determination, like having epic ambitions and the ability to work with other players, sometimes thousands of other players at the same time.

There are a couple of concerns that come up often when we talk about video games.  The first is addiction, and that’s definitely a real problem.  What I’ve discovered is that games do a better job, in many ways, of providing the things that we crave most, you know, whether it’s a sense of satisfying hands-on work where we can really see the outcomes of our actions, or a chance to succeed and get better at something, to start out being really bad and then have this sense of mastery as we get better and better.  Gamer addiction is not about, necessarily, the quality of the games being somehow fundamentally—they just grab us, and we can’t escape—, it’s really about what they offer us that the real world sometimes does a terrible job of offering us.  And it is, hopefully, our goal to take those things that we get from games and find ways to have them in our real lives, too.

The other big concern that people have about games is violence, of course.  There is no evidence that gaming makes you more violent.  In fact, a study came out just last week showing that gamers who play violent games that require strategy with your teammates or cooperation with other players to beat the bad guys are actually much more cooperative in the game and in real life, that they’re actually honing skills of cooperation, not skills of violence.  This makes perfect sense because when you’re playing a game with other players, you’re not actually being violent, right?  You have to actually work with the other players.  You have to trust them to finish the game.  You have to work with your teammates.  You have to communicate.  There’s no actual violence involved, right?  The actual effort involved is highly collaborative, highly trustworthy, highly social. 

So, the message needs to be this is training for real life.  You know, yes, games are escapist in that we do get to escape reality when we play them, but they’re not just escapist.  They’re also returnist.  We return to our real lives with real ways of thinking about what we’re capable of, real ways of solving problems more creatively.  And this is the great news for the gamer generations, that we have spent our lives planting this seed, planting this capability, and now we can take those skills and abilities to real challenges, whether they’re things like overcoming concussions the way that I used my gamer way of thinking to deal with that or tackling global challenges like climate change, and curing cancer, and overcoming political corruption.  There are games to do all of these things now that you can play, you can bring your gamer abilities and help save the real world.  So if you have a gamer in your life, or if you are a gamer, the good news is you are ready, they are ready to do extraordinary things in their real lives.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

 

Jane McGonigal argues that games are not a waste of time. In fact, she argues, "we need to look at what games are doing for gamers, the skills that we’re developing, the relationships that we’re forming, the heroic qualities that we get to practice every time we play, like resilience, like perseverance, and grit, and determination, like having epic ambitions and the ability to work with other players, sometimes thousands of other players at the same time."

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Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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