Studying Japanese and Playing Skateboarding Video Games

February 6th, 2008

(This post doesn’t really have to do with Japanese, that’s just coincidental)

With the rise of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the internet is aflame with musicians who complain that the newly ascendant musician-simulator genre is keeping people from actually picking up and learning to play real instruments.

The same argument has been used against other simulators-of-stuff-you-can-just-plain-do-in-real-life.  Nobody has ever complained, for example, that Microsoft Flight Simulator has kept people from going out and flying real planes, because it’s clear that the financial barrier in buying a plane is the actual preventative, and playing the game is in fact more like to make people go out and take flying classes than to prevent it.  But for games which involve things that require minimal investment, like baseball, it’s an old argument.

When I was young, I studied Japanese.  People would sometimes ask me if I enjoyed learning Japanese.  The honest answer, which I sometimes gave, was: no.  Not at all.  Studying Japanese wasn’t fun, it was work.  However, I enjoyed knowing Japanese,  and studying was what got me to that goal.

I think there are three levels of study/knowledge enjoyment.  The first is where you enjoy the study, and you enjoy the ability gained by studying.  Nothing will stop someone who has interest in both of these.  Give them guitar hero, and they may love it, but that won’t stop them from practicing the guitar, because they actually enjoy the guitar.

The next level is where you don’t enjoy the study, but you don’t hate it either, and you enjoy the ability gained by studying.  I’d still say, in this case, that sims won’t stop someone.   Sure, playing the sim may be more fun, but since practice isn’t actually un-fun, the sim experience will never match up to the actual experience, so a person might study a little more slowly, but the studying will still happen.

The last level is where you find the study to be just plain onerous, even though you’d enjoy the ability gained by studying.  For me, this is where skateboarding lies.  I tried my hand at it, practicing ollying for I-don’t-know-how-many-hours.  And then I quit.  Sure, I know the mantra is that people today give up when they find something hard, but they’re missing the point: when I’m studying something purely for fun, not for my health or sanity or financial stability, if it’s not fun, it’s missing the entire point.  Sure, I might have a lot of fun once I’ve struggled through the hard part, but that would have to be a whole mountain of fun to make up for the unpleasantness endured.

So, what traditionally happened is that people in the first category advanced quickly, people in the second category advanced slowly, and people in the third category quit.  Sure, you might know if your son was a category three guy, because you bought him that guitar for his birthday, and he only played it a week before giving it up.  But odds are, you’d only know a cat 3 quitter if you were his good friend or direct relative.

Nowadays, what happens is that people in the first category advance quickly, people in the second category advance slowly, and people in the third category just play games that simulate the part of the activity which they enjoy.  They pretend to shred with the best musicians instead of hiding their guitar in the back of the closet.  They pretend to grind with Tony Hawk rather than hide their skateboard in the shoe cabinet.  But since they’re playing those games, instead of just silently hiding their stuff, they’re much more visible.

And that’s why people complain about the games.  If your friend plays Guitar Hero every night, and never touches the guitar in the back of his closet, you can get on his case for letting video games prevent him from learning to play a REAL instrument.  If he didn’t play Guitar Hero, and never touched the guitar in the back of his closet, you’d never get on his case, because you’d never know he had an interest in guitars in the first place.

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