The importance of TRADE in playing games.

One aspect of children’s media use can been seem most dramatically in their game play. I’m tired of writing about how games are a literacy and rudely omitted from school thinking, so let me focus on something really important that is happening in their game play out of school.

Parents want kids to do two things simultaneously — stay safe and be successful. Depending on parenting style and belief,  those things will mean something different to everyone. Childhood is supposed to be happy time, but I recognize that there are people and groups who seek to make it a terrible one. I won’t dwell on that, but acknowledge that conceptions of childhood — happy or not, are shaped by many forces external and also internal to the child.

Kids therefore live in a regime which tries to achieve these things consistently, but as we all know few people could ever manage it. We have good days, and not so good days. We favour things we feel are familiar and predictable, and avoid things which are not. Children, as we know, have a very different conception of parenting — and how to react to parents who are though numerous ways trying to raise their children the best way they can. Parents don’t ‘trade’ the way their generation does, and they don’t offer much in the way of fair-trade. No wonder kids protest.

Games and fair-trade

One aspect most parents value is developing a sense of fair-exchange in children. By this I mean that children should need to be mindful of ‘give and take’ when it comes to many things in life. No one hopes their child will be a bully, nor do they want them to be bullied for example. In modern families, where schedules are tight, work hours long and so on, it is actually quite hard for children to develop a sense of how fair-exchange works in the world. In all reality, kids are not free to wander around their suburbs and see how other adults negotiate with a fishmonger, or engage in chit-chat at the grocery store. From a child’s perspective, the world in accessed via two things — a ride in a car and the Internet. In Australia only one third of kids go to school on foot and even less use their feet in non-school time. My argument is that kids receive a value system of fair-exchange in two ways — their parents impost and their in-game experiences of trade.

In-game, kids trade all sorts of things: time; advice; support; information; items; currency and more. To be a good networked game player means learning how to TRADE. Today’s generation see the world of trade in media-terms, not simply economic ones. My kids (who are under 13) seem to have no idea of the ‘real economic’ world they live in, yet seem deeply skilled at the ones they inhabit during gaming sessions.

Information, Assets, Time and Audiences (IATA)

Aside from trading ‘items’ in games and exchanging time to help and be helped, they also combine four important elements. The most important of which are AUDIENCES. Having an audience is perhaps the ‘gold’ of game (or any social media) trade. By combining audiences, smaller fish get to access (and even become) bigger ones. This is exactly how to become a successful YouTuber — learn how to trade information, assets, time and audiences.

I argue that given the time children spend in games, and that game mechanics provide this trade-engine, that kids use that to their advantage elsewhere. They don’t learn it more elsewhere, because we know from research the time kids spend online. It they are using time, then I argue they are also using information, assets and audiences.

These four things are meta-currencies of the post-web2.0-era. They are things that very few teachers poses in abundance, and even those with lots of information or massive audiences fail to trade their time in anything more than MONEY. You know how much the super-start get paid to powerpoint an audience with information — based on time. It just doesn’t work for kids who know that this is rubbish way to trade and get where you want to be.

So outside of games and other media being allowed by parents, it begs the question — how do my children put their considerable TRADE skills to work at school? I’d guess the answer is — they don’t because there is no structure or rewarding frame to do it within — especially when the media they are allowed to use is limited to text and print adaptations of essentially desktop word-processing and flash drive sharing.