The zen humidifier

What would it be like if the US president grew up playing video games?

While doing some egosurfing today, I hit upon this interview I did last spring with WNYC’s On The Media. It was a segment on “the rise of indie video-game designers”, so most of the segment is various game folks talking about how the online world — and the downloadable markets on the consoles — are bringing a new spirit of innovation to gaming.

In the final minute of the broadcast, though, we speculated on an interesting question: What’ll it be like 30 years from now when US has a president who grew up playing video games?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, let me ask you the big cultural question here. If, in fact, video games may become the largest form of home entertainment in America within the next year, in terms of dollars spent, how will that change the culture?

CLIVE THOMPSON: I certainly would hope that this breeds — particularly if we get more inventive forms of games — a type of a cultural mindset that’s more interested in the complexity of the world and complex systems, because the one thing that you do when you play a video game is you sit down in a state of total ignorance. You don’t know what you’re supposed to do. You don’t know how this game works.

And the process of figuring out what to do is really what is fun about the game. In fact, people often stop playing the game once they’ve figured it out. And that’s a great inquisitive mindset that video games quite uniquely tap into.

So, you know, 30 years from now, imagine a president who did this, you know, as their primary cultural activity for 25 years.

I don’t know if this is actually true. I like to think that game-playing — of all sorts, ranging from Uncharted to backgammon — leaves you with some useful mental habits, but I know far less about what’s genuinely useful in a presidential mindset. But either way, we’re eventually going to find out: A 20-year-old today who runs for president in 2040 will have spent his or her entire life playing games, I’ll bet.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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