Casey Monroe, World-Class Gaming Expert

Some of you may know that in addition to writing this blog, I am also the editor of the Wowhead Blog.  One of our volunteer staffers on Wowhead is a guy named Evgeni Kirilov (known on the site as ArgentSun) who I work with a lot.  He wrote a post two days ago that I would have written if I had gotten the chance to get it down on paper first.  The post is here: Gaming Can Make a Better World

The core theme of the post is a talk from TED by a speaker named Jane McGonigal.  You can watch the video embedded in that blog post, or you can watch the video directly on the TED website here, but in either case I encourage you to watch—I found it to be incredibly meaningful.

Jane’s speech contains a number of points which I found extremely compelling.  She mentions a statistic unearthed by a researcher at Carnegie-Mellon: that the average 21 year old, in a country with a “strong gamer culture” has 10,000 hours of gaming experience under his belt.

This isn’t just an arbitrary number, she draws two meaningful parallels:

  • 10,000 hours is roughly the amount of time a student will spend in school from 5th grade to high school graduation, if the student has perfect attendance.
  • 10,000 hours is the “magic number” that Malcolm Gladwell arrives at in his book Outliers, as the amount of time it takes for someone to achieve mastery in a certain skill.

I’d like to go into a little more detail about this than Ms. McGonigal did.  I read Outliers some time ago and enjoyed it a great deal, and was delighted to be able to draw a parallel between it and gaming.  In chapter 2, The 10,000 Hour Rule, Gladwell talks in great detail about the formulas for success, and one of the conclusions he comes to is summed up in this quote from neurologist David Levitin:

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything.  In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up agin and again.  Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do.  But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.  It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

Mr. Gladwell’s book is a delightful read, and I encourage you all to look into that as well—for all of its merits, not just its relevancy to gaming.  Gladwell makes one more point later in the chapter that I wish to reproduce:

“The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time.  It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult.  You have to have parents who encourage and support you.  You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be time left in the day to practice enough.  In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program—like a hockey all-star squad—or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.”

Now, looking at that paragraph, look back up at that image and read that statistic again.

What this means is that people all over the country, and the world, are putting in that tremendous, difficult, onerous, magical number of hours learning a specific skill—gaming—without even meaning to. We didn’t even realize it, but we are part of an entire generation of World-Class Expert Gamers.

Up next: What do we do with all this expertise?

Published by Malgayne

Community Manager at Google. Formerly at Sourcebits, Spark Plug Games, Zynga, and I like chiptunes and hefeweizen.

10 thoughts on “Casey Monroe, World-Class Gaming Expert

  1. thanks for this, it’s always nice to find out that you’re the master of something. Especially if you are absolutely lousy in practice! :)

  2. Well there are two things about this to keep in mind.

    1. Considering your eagerness to give up the game controller, I find it unlikely that you have logged a full 10,000 hours of gameplay. I frankly rather doubt that I have as well.

    2. I think you’re a MUCH better gamer than you give yourself credit for. You, for example, participated in the SSB Melee tournament at my wedding, against a crew of serious expert gamers, and you stayed in past the first round. Like, I understand that in comparison to the rest of the crew you may feel outmatched. But you need to compare yourself instead to people who don’t play games, and realize how big the difference is. Compare yourself, for example, to your father, and THEN tell me you’re not good at games.

  3. It’s fairly motivational to learn that you are the master of anything, and that it is actually something important. People learn that gaming is useless, that it does nothing, but Jane attempts to counter these accusations.

    I myself am not a gaming expert; I like MMORPGs and Action RPGs due to the fact that a large part of them is memorization. Other games require me to be more adaptive; something which is not exactly my strong point, but something vital to life. Does this mean I should broaden my gaming-horizons? This is a thought-provoking video, which made people create many thought-provoking blogs, which is a spectacular domino effect.

    Of course, I’m just rambling at this point, so I digress.

    I, in comparison to a normal person, am fairly better at games. In comparison to the youth of the world, I may be less adept at FPS games, since they have a confusing obsession with them, shunning all other forms of gaming and mocking people who play them. Of course, they mock the people not within their clique who play the same genre of game.

    Once again, I digress.

    When you pointed out the length of the time in school from fifth grade to high-school graduation, is it bad odd that I became a bit enraged for school sucking up so much of our time, so inefficiently? In many of those years, some people cruise through on luck or just don’t care, and often slow the rest of the class down. So, once again, I must digress. I really do ramble a lot; it’s hard for me to control, yet I hesitate to delete them, for someone may find them interesting.

    World of Warcraft.

    It is a time sink in its truest form. I have spent over 2400 hours of my life on that game alone. It’s somewhat depressing to think about it, considering I’m still in my teens; that’s a LARGE fraction of my life so far. Yet WoW has gotten me to give up that much of my time, with little regret. Due to it, I was encouraged to research to become better at things. I was encouraged to branch out, and meet new people. I was encouraged to become more social, rather than the introvert I had been in my early years, where I had played Diablo II on without talking to anyone for nearly a year, somehow. I was taught to step up when people depended on me, whether it be for a raid, for a general meeting, or just for a quick chat. That is why, I believe, some people regard me as mature. Even though I’m really not. I act in a mature manner because I’ve been taught to, basically. Being taught by the internet is an odd thing. I’m fairly thin skinned for one who spent a lot of his childhood socializing on the internet; a very odd predicament, too. Very odd indeed…

    I digress, once again; I’m focusing on myself instead of the blog. Let’s try to stay on topic, now.

    In the blog post you mention Outliers, a book which seems to be pretty interesting, and worth a read. You connect the things it said with the things Jane said in her TED presentation, and you raise a valid point; what WILL we do with this expertise in gaming?

    Personally, I think it will be much like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I won’t go into detail on this due to spoilers for people who haven’t read it, but for those who have, Ender was tricked. He was tricked, and then exiled for being too great in the people’s eyes. He sacrificed men’s lives without knowing it, for he thought it was merely a game. I find it interesting that there’s a movie that has something along these lines, although the people aren’t getting tricked, as far as I can discern. They are controlling soldiers, in a war. Gerard Butler looks pretty nice in the movie; I’m glad to see him in one that seems interesting; nearly as much as 300 was.

    Anyways, I digress; I wasn’t able to focus it entirely; only partially, but my ramblings may be found useful, or somehow coherent.

    Best of luck.

  4. I want to focus on a few particular things that you said:

    “When you pointed out the length of the time in school from fifth grade to high-school graduation, is it bad odd that I became a bit enraged for school sucking up so much of our time, so inefficiently?”

    and later,

    “I have spent over 2400 hours of my life on that game [WoW] alone. It’s somewhat depressing to think about it, considering I’m still in my teens; that’s a LARGE fraction of my life so far. Yet WoW has gotten me to give up that much of my time, with little regret.”

    That, I think, is the key. You spent 10,000 hours in school, and you wish it was less. You spent 2,400 hours in WoW, and you wish it was more. Which experience, do you think, is more likely to have taught you something? Which experience will you be glad you spent your time on in twenty years?

    THIS is why gaming has such power—and this is what I want to get into when I write my next post.

  5. I don’t know if this is where you’re going, but your last comment makes me wonder–are there certain things that games [i]can’t[/i] teach? Most of what I know about Excel I learned because of WoW, which I’m sure was a much better way of motivating me than, say, a class about Excel. But that’s a relatively uninteresting type of learning. Could you make a game that teaches a person how to critique literature or drama, for instance? I wonder.

  6. I am sorry I can not remember the time and channel, but I was amused to see an interview with a successful surgeon speaking about how he looks for gaming practice in his students. The Dr. specialized in arthroscopic surgeries where surgeons were required to do the work by handling controllers and viewing their work through monitors and he found that people who had long hours of experience with video games learned the skills FAR faster than those who did not.

  7. You know, one of the things that McGonigal mentions is gamers’ optimism – our sense that there’s always a solution. I’m not sure if that’s really an attribute of gamers. When I’m playing a game, I’m willing to keep cracking away at a difficult problem because I know that the problem was designed to be solvable. I’m optimistic about finding a solution because I know in advance that there is a solution out there to be found.

    I think that may be more a statement about games than about gamers. Suppose I’ve tried to solve a puzzle or a fight or some other problem in a game, and I’ve been working on it for hours or days or even weeks. As long as I’m confident that the problem is solvable, my optimism holds and I continue to try. But now imagine I begin to suspect there’s a bug that makes the problem unsolvable – not that I know there’s such a bug (obviously that would cause me to give up immediately; nobody continues to try to solve a problem they know for sure is unsolvable), but merely that I suspect there’s a bug. That would certainly lessen my motivation to keep trying. I’m no less a gamer than before I suspected the problem was unsolvable. But my optimism changes.

    And isn’t that what real-world problems are often like? They might be solvable – but they might not be. I wonder if being a gamer is very predictive of whether one believes real-world problems to be solvable or not.

  8. Dad: I remember that show. I was actually going to mention it in my next post—it’s a shame neither of us can remember what show it was. What excited me most about this video was the fact that we can train ourselves, as gamers, not just for hand-eye coordination—though I dare say we are the most coordinated generation in history—but also to learn how to solve complicated social problems.

    That’s a good point. Can it really be called optimism if it’s a simple statement of fact? Is it optimism to say “this problem has a solution”, when it clearly does? Or does it only become optimism when you say it about problems that may or may not have a solution?

    There are two other things that come to mind:

    1. There are some games which present you with “unwinnable problems”. The sort of progression you make in World of Warcraft, or Farmville, or the Sims, is of an “unwinnable” kind. You do not “win” WoW. You merely continue to progress as long as you are willing to stay motivated. Life’s challenges, I think, are of a similar nature. You do not “win” at life, no matter what 4chan may say. You just grind away at bigger and bigger goals, and (hopefully) you get a little further every day. So gaming, and specifically online gaming, DOES prepare people for challenges like the ones that life poses, I think.

    2. The concept of using “gamer-ness” as a predictor for whether or not someone believes real world problems to be solvable seems like it could go either way. Perhaps gamers play games because they feel like real-world problems are unsolvable, and prefer to immerse themselves in an activity where they KNOW the problems have solutions?

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