Gamers are changing the world, and so are their open-minded moms.
By Gigi Wang, Social Media Week San Francisco Board Member, MIT/Stanford Venture Lab
At the IBM 100 Anniversary Gala in NYC in September 2011, Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, proclaimed to an audience of 700 world leaders that World of Warcraft (WoW) provided better leadership training for tomorrow’s world than the MIT Sloan School of Business. For those who don’t have teenage gamers in the house, WoW is one of the most popular MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) with over 10.3 million playing the game around the world. Ito’s comment made me reflect on my stance as a “tiger mom”, who’d previously ranted and raved against my teenage sons playing WoW, and made me wonder if there might actually be some value in online gaming.
Well, for starters, since playing the game, my sons have picked up some business skills. After banning the boys from using my credit card to pay for WoW’s monthly fees, my son Zac, 11 years old at the time, figured out how to buy a personalized VISA debit card at the grocery store using his Chinese New Year’s red envelope money. Voila! Who needs mom’s credit card? They had their VISA card to make those on-line payments. Of course, Zac then charged his older brother a premium to use his VISA card. (Maybe he’s a future Bank of America CEO with all their added fees?)
It seems Zac wasn’t the only one learning business skills from gaming. Max, now 19 years old, recently came with me to a business meeting with the CEO of a new client. While we were discussing business models, Max jumped into the conversation and said that there could be different revenue models for businesses, similar to how they’re set up in gaming. He explained the evolution of the gaming industry from the one-time purchase of games for use with gaming consoles (eg. XBOX, Wii) or handheld devices (eg. Nintendo DS, Sony PSP), to the evolution of online games with monthly subscriptions (eg. WoW). Max went on to describe the new online revenue models like pay-as-you-go for more gameplay (eg. Borderlands) and the now wildly successful virtual goods (eg Farmville) where players make micro-payments for virtual boosts or items like a virtual tractor for their virtual farms. Zynga built its $6.5 billion dollar business on virtual goods. Yes, Max is ready to get his MBA after he finishes his engineering degree.
More important than acquiring business skills is that my boys develop social skills. And how would they develop social skills glued to a screen with animated characters and not talking to real people? To my surprise, today’s games and their complex organizational structures provides for a lot of social interaction and learning. Most of the online games have chat functionality so that kids are communicating with their friends and interacting. And then they often use Skype on another computer to talk live with other players (without running up mom’s phone bills, thank you!) I’ve sat on the couch on a Friday night as the kids are talking to other people all over the country — they even have me say hi to their cyber-friends. They once sent home-made cookies to a kid in New York so they all could eat them together while they played. Lots of social interaction here. (Note: Very important is making sure the kids use judgment in who they interact with and what info they share.) In another instance, Zac recently broke the rules while playing MindScape; the rest of his group then penalized him by prohibiting him from playing for a week. He walked around for a week dejectedly hanging his head wishing he hadn’t broken the rules and gotten himself kicked out of the game. MindScape social interaction – a gentler way of teaching kids to follow rules than going to juvie or to jail!
Yes, this tiger mom has decided that gaming is okay. Perhaps, the guy from the MIT Media Lab is right, playing games is training the kids to be tomorrow’s leaders. So… since Zac, now 15 years old, is learning so much from playing MMORPG’s, don’t you think he is perfect for MIT’s freshmen class for 2014?Perhaps a joint engineering and business degree!