I am just back from the American Society of Association Executives annual conference (with a few days of vacation thrown in on the end). It was a great event, though I regret that I was not able to get to the gaming session that Sue Pelletier recently highlighted on her Face2Face blog: How online gaming will affect the future of associations.
As I noted recently in Taking Games Seriously, games – and in particular, multi-user online games – are an element of the social Web that I think few organizations are watching as closely as they should. The “gamer disposition,” of which John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas have written, has great potential value for organizations. And serious games – which I recently wrote about in a WE magazine article, Playing for Change – can be powerful tools for creating social change as well as engaging customers, members, and employees. I am thrilled to see that the gaming phenomenon made it onto the agenda at ASAE.
My only criticism of the session – and this is based solely on Sue’s recounting of it in her post, since I was not at the session – is that presenter Susan Fox seems to have placed the usual emphasis on generational differences. I always chaff a bit at this, whether the topic is gaming or the social Web in general.
In the first place, the numbers for games do not skew as young as people instinctively think. The average age of a gamer, for instance, is 35. (See ESA Essential Facts.)
Perhaps more importantly, broad generational differences, or even somewhat more specific distinctions like “digital native” and “digital immigrant” are blunt instruments at best for describing what are ultimately rich, complex cognitive phenomena at the individual level. While early exposure – the main advantage of younger generations – can facilitate certain types of learning, it’s not at all clear that youth in and of itself predisposes an individual to the gaming disposition. Any number of factors can contribute to older minds flourishing (or not) in online games or other forms of collective intelligence: social circumstances, personality, and cognitive abilities, just to name a few.
I may be putting too fine a point on the issue, but when it comes to the social Web, I hear the generational argument thrown out too often as an excuse for deferring action, taking no action, or pushing action to those who may not really be in the best position to lead. I don’t expect that most current organizational leaders are likely to transform themselves into World of Warcraft guild leaders – but I am betting the best ones will ignore generational generalizing, trick out an avatar, and give games a try.