Twitch Speed, part 2 (for real)

Now onto the second part (for real this time) of my look at the ’98 ‘Twitch Speed’ article by Marc Prensky. This time I’m looking at the Payoff vs. Patience section (page 5).

One way in which I may misread Prensky is the degree to which he is describing the differences (as he sees them) between “natives” and “immigrants”, versus celebrating them. I usually read his stuff as mainly the latter – and I think this is his take, that the changes are almost uniformly for the better. Am I misreading Prensky? I don’t think so, but I’d be happy to hear otherwise. But onto the review…

The question of whether the change is ‘better’ or just ‘different’ certainly applies here. Indeed, in describing the increasing need for immediate feedback and constant stimulation, Prensky could almost be making the same case as Neil Postman does in ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’. Except with the opposite opinion on whether this is a good thing or not.

Certainly, with need for immediate feedback, does this mean Prensky thinks that todays Digital Natives lack foresight, insight and the ability to make long-term plans? What kind of immediate feedback do these people deserve and/or need in the workplace? Some kind of constant ego-stroking and supplies of cookies every time they do a good thing?

“Why, they ask, should I finish school when elementary school kids can design professional Web sites, 20-year-olds can start billion-dollar companies, and Bill Gates, who left school for something with more payoff, is the world’s richest man?”

The elementary school kid bit is clearly an exaggeration for effect. Yes, school kids can make web pages – there are enough tools out there that make it easy – but how many school kids can make professional quality web sites? And as for entrepreneurs like Gates – yes it is true that many of them (Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Alan Sugar… ) left either school or university before completing, but these are the success stories, and these are driven people. Entrepreneurs don’t get constant payoffs – they generally have to invest significant amounts of their time before they get any payoff at all. If the Digital Natives don’t realise this, then they could get a shock.

I think such entrepreneurs do make useful role-models but so do Larry Page and Sergei Brin, who were PhD students when they developed Google. Ok, they didn’t finish their PhD’s – but neither did they originally intend to go into business.

“…it was at first strange to me that the same people who prefer ‘twitch’ games often have great patience with the… long waiting times in a game like Myst.”

Excuse me? For the most part Myst was played by people who don’t prefer ‘twitch’ games. Again, this paragraph ends with words to the effect that Digital Natives need rewards now – rather than payoffs “in the long run”. Again – see entrepreneurs.

“One clear business manifestation of this… is the increasing demand for a clearer link between what employees do and the rewards they get, leading to the growing trend toward pay-for-performance.”

Hmm. Try this web search. Or take out the ’2006′ for a broader perspective.
To the extent that this paragraph is true about the trends for spin-offs and for equity as compensation, I would suggest it is only true for a tiny percentage of companies and for very specific sectors of industry. And more so in some countries and regions that others. I certainly don’t see any of this as representative of the general state of affairs in the UK.

All in all, I think I’ve found enough things to disagree with in these three paragraphs. I don’t think the logic is as twisted or bizarre as in the “Fantasy vs. Reality” section that follows. But still, plenty to argue about.

I’m only going to make one more entry about this paper, because I’ve had about as much as I can take.

9 thoughts on “Twitch Speed, part 2 (for real)

  1. Tony Forster

    Prensky is aiming his work at the general public. He is an advocate for Digital Games Based Learning and he does this well.

    When you are ready for a deeper analysis, I suggest the writings of Richard Van Eck and James Gee.

  2. Daniel Livingstone

    Thanks Tony,

    I agree that Prensky does his job as an evangelist very well, but I wish he was more honest and critical. I don’t mind evangelists but I don’t like fundamentalists. I’ve got James Gee’s book waiting on my bookshelf at the moment, and plenty of other material to read through… and will try and catch up.

    However, saying that someone is writing for the public can excuse some degree of simplification – but I think Prensky goes beyond that and can mislead readers. As some people have noted, the effects of this can potentially be damaging – see this article on ‘The Myth of Digital Native’ I previously blogged:

  3. Tony Forster

    See also Van Eck’s “Its not just the digital natives who are restless” which is to a degree a criticism of Prensky’s book and my
    criticism of Van Eck’s article.

    We can certainly go a lot further than just celebrating the supposed or real characteristics of the current generation of “digital natives”

  4. Daniel Livingstone

    Thanks Tony,

    I did spot that article, I just did my usual ‘blog it and reserve comment for later, when I get the chance to read it’.

    I agree with you that I think that student made games do have a strong potential for success across a variety of disciplines – and that Van Eck may have assumed that game creation is a lot harder than it can be with a variety of tools.

    I haven’t used Game Maker myself, but I did see Mark Overmars kive a plenary on it – and it does look good. I also know that Judy Robertson of Glasgow Caledonian has used Neverwinter Nights module creation tools with children ages 10 and below.

    I think that there is a need to seperate out the concepts of digital games based learning (DGBL) and learning through creating digital games. The difference between learning history through playing a historical game, and learning history to allow you to re-create it in a game of your own making.

    And I certainly have to agree with your final comment!

  5. Tony Forster

    The concepts of playing/making are related to the concepts of instruction/constructivism. The supporters of game playing are often seeing it as a platform for content delivery. There are exceptions, Tim Ryelands has used games as a mental trigger for creative writing. The supporters of game making see it more as a platform for higher order thinking.

    Game making is connected with Web2.0. The web now allows kids to be producers rather than consumers, it lies with creative technologies such as wiki’s and blogs. The producer spends more time generally in higher order thinking and is more likely to build the kinds of cognitive structures which are transferrable and can be used for problem solving.

    There is big money to be made from games publishing, hence the attention that game playing gets. Game making is the poor cousin.

    Game making is now easy, kids grade 3 and below can do it. Spread the message!

  6. Bill Kerr

    hi daniel,

    I think your critical analysis of marc prensky is spot on

    Although he might play a positive role initially as a populiser / provocateur, we do have to move on beyond slogans such as “digital immigrant / digital native”, “engage me / enrage me” and “50% of the world’s population is under 25?

    I like the way prensky talked to and engaged my students when he visited adelaide. He’s a nice guy and he knows his games but I would agree that deep critical analysis is not is strong point. However, I noticed how he modified his talk for the adult audience next day, changing the main theme from games to engagement

    There was a wide ranging discussion (21 comments)of these issues at the powerhouse museum blog following his talk in Adelaide in March

    I’ve been thinking more recently that another way to look at the whole “gaming phenomenon” is through the lens of political economy

    For example, in the new attention economy Prensky can a pack a room of adults at $220 a head. Because he is a provocative advocate of “get off our arses and save education through games” (I’m paraphrasing) he can draw a crowd in a way that a deeper, more thoughtful analyst of educational dilemmas cannot. Isn’t the economics of this transaction, the whole weird way in which the education economy works, the bottom line here? Grabbing attention becomes more important than real analysis.

    I haven’t seen much written about this side of it. But I recently heard a paper (Cairns, ACEC) by Sylvia Martinez which “offers an analysis of why the nature of video and computer games is antithetical to traditional forms of school curriculum, content and assessment. In addition, both consumer and school markets are explored to explain why there are so few successful educational games so that we may find ways to encourage the design of educational games that provide compelling, immersive educational experiences”

    I’ve put a link to Sylvia’s paper on my learningEvolves wiki, in case you want to pursue this theme.

    I agree with Tony that Gee and Van Eck offer a deeper analysis of the real situation, whilst perhaps underplaying the potential for game creation using software such as game maker

  7. sylvia martinez

    I wanted to thank Bill for putting up a link to my paper from ACEC, since I don’t have a good place to put it these days.

    Anyway, it does bother me that Prensky talks so much about what his “natives” want/need, but then fails to deliver it in the games his company is designing.

    One thing I wanted to point out in my paper is how the past decades are littered with so many similar failed attempts to create learning games by haphazardly co-opting gameplay without understanding gameplay. I think it’s pretty clear why that happens, and why it’s one of those ideas that won’t die, but I’m hoping we don’t have to keep repeating the same mistakes.

    I just don’t see why someone as smart and entertaining as Prensky can’t see how boring and unimaginative his own games are.

  8. Daniel Livingstone

    Hi Sylvia,

    I look forward to reading the paper… will give you my comments when I catch up a little. I haven’t played many of the new breed of GBL titles, but in some that I have seen the game-play does stop as soon as the education begins – or as you say they simply don’t seem to be entertaining games at all.
    Funny, given the extent to which GBL appears to distance itself at times from ‘edutainment’ for not being sufficiently entertaining or educational.


Leave a Reply to Daniel Livingstone Cancel reply