My Nine Year Old Cheats Media

blog cheatsAfter the Holiday rush, I strolled into my home office computer to catch up on some odds and ends. My nine year old was in my chair researching some cheats for the new Wii game the kids were starting to master. This was not news to me. My eleven year-old had done it before him and my fourteen year old has researched cheats for years. It is part of the fun of video games; the assumption that things are rigged to be cheated.

So why, as a parent, am I not afraid of raising cheaters? Because I think the word “cheat” in this case is a misnomer. I could use the word “hack” instead. But I don’t think it fits the definition of hacking either. A hacker wants to access something his target does not want to give up.

The designers in the gaming world intentionally create massive shortcuts which are not advertised on the box or in the basic instructions on the console or help section fo the software. And gradually this information makes it’s way to the web for the researching youth of the world to discover. What a great skill to encourage.

Anyone over fifty would sit down as a neophyte, and work out how to play by the directions displayed on the software interface. They might be able to become proficient in the game too. But they would only be starting. Mastery takes research. It takes finding the cheats.

My nine year old knows he’s part of a vast community of gamers. He also knows the web will deliver if he looks hard enough. It will deliver secret powers for his player, shortcuts through mazes, extra players which come to his aid, button combinations for turbo boosts known only to the programmers, etc.

Game designers and programmers love this. They make a digital onion; layers within layers within layers of playablity and discovery. They know this hooks the player and creates value.

So is it cheating or hacking to find the items on a scavenger hunt? No! The thing is rigged for discovery.

What if we approached learning, or finding new skills, like this?

Tim Ferriss has a great post on his cheats for swimming, tango, and learning Japanese here. He treats these subjects like my boys treat video games. He assumes that the general rules of learning have deeper, more efficient cheats. He then dives in with the total expectation he will find the hidden treasures of whatever subject matter he seeks to master. He might seem like a short cut junky, but I think it is more the drive to find efficiency and effectiveness and the core issues.

This is how I’d like to approach media, health, and economic resources in 2009. I have to adapt to what Tim and my nine year old have come to expect. There is a better way, and you have to dig for it. And if you love the process enough, any subject gives up it’s secrets.

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