04. October 2010 · Comments Off on Goals, games and getting on with it · Categories: My personal learning journey

Disclaimer: This is a personal learning journey post so it is by nature self-indulgent and with limited citations and references…

I spend a lot of time online. I work all day online and at night after about half an hour of non-online stuff like fixing dinner and talking to my husband, I am back online. I wake up and the second thing I do (the first is none of your business) is fire up the computer and check Twitter.

I fell into this pattern during a time when my husband worked quite a lot at night and I was going through a patch of illness where I didn’t feel like doing much physical after getting home.

Stories on the mainstream media that play up the dangers of “being addicted” to technology have annoyed me because they fail to take into consideration personal responsibility and other escapes.  But perhaps gaming and social media addiction go beyond escapism and engage us at a different level?

A selection of avatars from research I've done into virtual worlds


This article from Psychology Today outlines 2008 research done at Clemson University into the goal orientation of the brain outlines two major intrinsic (internal) motivators. The article summarises them as follows:

“Mastery-oriented individuals seek to develop their competence and improve their abilities. In contrast, Performance-oriented individuals seek to demonstrate their competence and/or avoid revealing their incompetence.”

Games – and a lot of social networking and media – reward both of these in my humble opinion.

In the MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game World of Warcraft, you start out with simple tasks and your armour reflects your starter status. Other players can and do use tools to size up your “gear score” and will take you to task if you attempt a group activity “under geared”.

There are tools that help you to broadcast your performance in a given battle in competition with other members of your raiding party. And if a raiding party performs badly, there is always one or two defensive members who will start pointing fingers of blame away from themselves. You can be blacklisted over time so you don’t want to be the one who cops the blame too often.

So in the game – you want to improve your abilities in order to see and do more things and then you want to demonstrate your competence to get to go on raids that yield better and better rewards.

In fact, this makes a lot of sense to me. Someone who is mastery-driven is sooner or later going to be called upon to demonstrate that competence – whether you’re an aspiring tank in World of Warcraft or a PhD candidate or an apprentice plumber looking to get his ticket.

http://twittercounter.com/ - 4/10/2010


Social media and social networking are also games of a sort. Those who participate either do so for extrinsic reasons stemming from work or social pressures or intrinsic reasons such as the need to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, abilities – or just to reach out and make a connection.

You start off by learning the rules, making some blunders perhaps – then finding a blend of tools, attitudes and contacts that will help you achieve whatever goals you may have. Most social networks and media sites want people to participate (for a variety of commercial, educational and communications reasons) so to encourage you they grant you status symbols to display your prowess. These can be numbers of followers displayed next to your name, a title, etc.

In both games and social media, I can only claim very modest achievements despite the fact I can in some circumstances be fiercely competitive. I can say that during a time of frustration and a sense of dis-empowerment that gaming made me feel – however artificially – that I was progressing, learning and achieving.

Social networks can make you feel the same. Having lots of comments on something pithy or witty you’ve written on Facebook, Twitter or a blog like this feels good. Having a photo viewed and favourited on Flickr is a nice pat on the back.

None of this is negative in and of itself, it is the constant connection to it that I think can be harmful. Sure it’s nice that people like my photos or blog posts or RT my Twitter comments.

But if that sort of thing can make my day – and can do so at the risk of achievements that will yield more personally satisfying results long term – then the danger sets in.

On Saturday of this long weekend I stayed away from my computer all day and only used my mobile phone to take photos. To wean myself from my World of Warcraft raiding on Saturday mornings – I set myself some goals and set out to achieve them. I did. In the afternoon I played on the beach.

On Sunday I used the internet briefly to check out where my husband and I might find some markets to tour.

Today, the holiday Monday, I have work to do – but got up and went to the computer and decided to indulge in my social networks. BAM! 90 minutes later I was back into it – finding friends, Tweeting and re-Tweeting, looking at Facebook activity, checking and responding to comments on photos. Eek.

I am going to work at bringing over the games element into what I want to achieve and learn in my life. There are always going to be stress and threatening situations – but I need to top up my optimism not with epic music and flashes of light but with rewards that pay tangible physical and psychological dividends.

Extrinsic motivators exist for me to master new knowledge quickly and thoroughly. There are also skills that I know I don’t have that I want to develop in practical aspects of my life. So harnessing what I’ve researched about learning and games should help me not only get these things done, but make the journey fun and rewarding.

Time to mind map some details and build a game framework…

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