This week, we welcome Patricia Dillon Soczak to Lofty Ambitions for a new twist. Pattie is the Director of Development for the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University, where we work too. But we asked her to write for us because she’s currently a student at Fielding Graduate University in Southern California where she is earning her Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems. Her area of research is understanding how playing video games prepares players to become effective contributors in the workplace, and we’re interested in how the cognitive skills might translate. Patricia has a background in higher education (as a librarian, instructor, academic advisor, and administrator), manufacturing and industrial engineering, project and program management, and technical and educational sales. She holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and a Masters of Library Science from San Jose State University. Pattie and Doug are collaborating on a presentation about the notion of play for an interdisciplinary series hosted by Chancellor Daniele Struppa to which Anna contributed earlier this academic year.
CAN ADULTS PLAY?
As a baby boomer, I grew up playing all sorts of games: card games, sports, and board games. As a child, it was acceptable for me to pass the time away in the endless pursuit of having fun. Fast forward a few decades, and I still play games, only these games are on a computer and this pursuit isn’t something I talk about without some type of qualification. Why? So that the person I am talking to doesn’t think that I’m lazy, crazy, or both.
I like to play and I believe that most adults do as well, though many will not admit to it. I’ve taken my love of play to the next level. In less than a year, I will complete a doctoral program in human and organizational systems. My dissertation topic stems from my belief that video games, specifically the massively multiplayer online games (MMOG), are fertile training grounds for workers in the twenty-first century.
My entrance into the world of video games came at me from two distinctly different, though related, events. First was an assignment to create a program in video game design. As a complete newcomer (or newbie) to this subject matter, I nonetheless became part of a vital team of educators and professionals who, over the period of a year, developed a viable program. This experience sparked my interest to learn more about video gaming in general. Secondly, as part of the process of building this program, I had the opportunity to travel to some of the most notable video game design shows and conferences. On one of my trips, I had the chance to watch a colleague prepare and lead a twenty-five-player quest (or instance) in the video game World of Warcraft (WoW), the most popular MMOG, with over twelve million subscribers located all over the world.
I watched her and her fellow gamers play for hours and was absolutely amazed at what I witnessed. Twenty-five unique characters (avatars) with different yet complementary skills, assembled, set out some basic ground rules, shared strategies, and subsequently forged ahead as a cohesive team to beat the so-called boss and reap the rewards. It reminded me of going into organizations to run team-building sessions. The same dynamics are in place: a group of people with mixed yet complementary skills, focused on achieving a group goal. Yet this group of gamers seemed more cohesive and capable than most work groups. I wondered why.
From this simple observation, I started to play WoW and for the last three years, barring illness and work commitments, I have continued to play. I am currently a level 62 Blood Elf Hunter and I play for the Horde. I play with my son, my nephew in the army, and other players I meet in game. And I started my Ph.D. program with the idea to use the research for my dissertation to test my belief that high-level players of WoW are gaining competencies that are relevant for the twenty-first-century work place.
As I begin my pilot study, I am starting to interview players for my research. I’m continually impressed by the players with whom I talk. Contrary to the media hype, these players are responsible, capable, and accomplished people from all walks of life. They tell me they play because it is fun, exciting, empowering, and exhilarating. They play because they feel better about themselves when they accomplish a quest, mentor another player, or learn new skills. As I continue my research, there is much I still need to know about the game, about the players, and about what is happening to these players as they play. I still need to know, can adults play?