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Countering the Excuses for Avoiding Social Media (and Video Games)

by Alexandra Samuel in | | |

This post originally appeared on my blog for the Harvard Business Review.

“I can see why it’s important, but it’s not something I need to be an expert on myself.”

“I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

“I guess I’m too old to really get it.”

I was talking with a colleague about gaming when I heard these phrases come out of my mouth. I run a digital research centre in a city, Vancouver, that’s a serious player in the gaming industry. That means I’m one of the few people who worries that I don’t spend enough time playing video games. Sure, I have a few games on my iPhone, but as I told my colleague, I’ve got better things to do with my time, like catching up on Twitter. I’ve got a Wii, but at my age, it’s way easier to see the point of blogging than the value of World of Goo. I got a Playstation 3 so that I could play Uncharted 2 &38212; all the hype about the latest generation of truly cinematic games made it sound like an important development — but hey, I don’t need to become a champion gamer.

Holding video gaming at arm’s length felt totally justifiable, until I realized why my resistance sounded familiar. It’s the same resistance I hear — and counter — about the social web. As a social media geek, I rarely go a day without convincing a friend that even a 42-year-old can enjoy Facebook, or hectoring a colleague about how much time and effort they could save with social media communications, or coaxing a communications pro into embracing social media as a core part of their professional practice. I bat aside the protests about age, time commitment and personal preference.

Until it’s time to invoke them myself in the context of video games.

The release of the Microsoft Kinect last week once again forced me to confront my double standard. Faced with the widespread accolades for this “revolutionary”, controller-free gaming system, I felt like even a skeptic like me had to take it for a spin.

The experience was in fact revolutionary enough to inspire a set of 10 predictions for how the Kinect will change our world in the next decade. And it pushed me to think about how my anti-gaming arguments would hold up in the face of the same arguments I use to evangelize social media. Here’s how they break down:

  • I don’t need to be an expert on this. You don’t need to be an expert on everything, but you do need to be an expert in your own field. And guess what? If you’re in marketing, advertising, communications, or the media, social media is now central to your field. That means you need more than a Twitter handle and a LinkedIn profile: you need to be as comfortable choosing the right social network for an online campaign as you are choosing a broadcaster for your latest ad, and as creative in conceiving an online conversation as you are in crafting an offline message. And I’m afraid that if you’re in a media or technology field, gaming is now mission-critical too. With American teens now spending more than ten hours a week on gaming, a deep understanding the culture and idiom of video games is essential to participating in the future of in web communications, narrative and media creation.
  • I’ve got better things to do. This excuse is a pet peeve of mine. You find time for professional investments like reading trade journals or going to conferences; you may make time for hobbies like golf or knitting. What makes you think social media is intrinsically less meaningful than what’s taking up your time now? In fact, Twitter’s being used to help survivors of the Haitian earthquake. It’s fine if you have things you’d rather do than tweet, blog or Facebook, but then you’d better not want to want to work in communications or media. Because in 2010, saying you don’t think social media is worth your time is like saying your communications job is not worth your time. Same goes for video games. You need to at least have working knowledge of them or you’ll lose your job to someone who thought it was worthwhile to understand this enormous new medium.

  • I’m too old. Unless you’re reading HBR for your high school social studies class, then you’re right: you’re much too old to “get” social media. You will never be a social media native. On the other hand, that’s not an excuse to dismiss them. You simply must get comfortable working with tools and media that feel fundamentally foreign. That goes double for gaming: if you feel like you’re too old to “get” console and iPhone games, be prepared to be pwned by 3D gaming and neural interfaces. And cheer up: today’s high school students will be tomorrow’s old fogeys.

The tough love argument on video games leaves me feeling the way I see my friends and colleagues look after a good harangue on the importance of diving into social media: daunted and anxious. The Darwinian “do it or get winnowed out” lecture may be true, but it’s no way to stoke the kind of sustained enthusiasm that’s necessary to mastering a field.

Here’s what works: URLs. Point me to Dance on Broadway, a Wii game that promises to indulge my weakness for musical theater. Show me a review that makes the latest game title sound as emotionally affecting as the movies and TV shows I love. Get me to download a game that blurs the line between gaming and art.

Stop trying to convince me that learning about video gaming — or social media — is a way of avoiding professional pain, and start showing me how it can be a source of personal delight. Because nobody ever became an expert under duress. The only way to become a real expert is by loving something enough to get really, really good at it.

First posted on November 3,2011

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