Friday, December 12, 2014

Are video games the new spectator sport?

For those who are looking for it, the news is everywhere: video games are becoming the new spectator sport. The signs have been there for years, although they were subtle in many cases. I saw them in my own family room, with my kids sitting together and watching each other play. I always thought "how boring," and dismissed it, thinking my kids were probably the only weirdos who would sit and watch other people play a video game that they themselves weren't playing.

But when I think about it, how many times did I stand in an arcade, watching an expert player dominate Mortal Combat? (a lot.) If you ever saw the documentary King of Kong, you'll remember groups of people crowding around a Donkey Kong game, holding their breath as competitors beat level after level after level.

Just a couple years ago, I noticed another phenomenon. My kids were watching other people play video games on YouTube. Sometimes they watched to learn how to beat a level in a game they were struggling with. Sometimes, they just watched for fun. With the arcade gone and more players playing at home, YouTube became the place to observe and learn and go back to your Xbox and try again yourself.

But then, my kids weren't satisfied with just observing...they wanted to record themselves playing and share those videos too. New kinds of videos of game play emerged: color commentary! Some videos featured gamers recording their parents or grandparents playing, the ultimate noobs to laugh at. Other videos featured gamers whose funny quips and engaging personalities helped make them into celebrities in the gaming world. My kids started imagining themselves becoming YouTube stars, simply by recording the games they were playing.

I didn't have a name for this new genre of entertainment, but yesterday saw this article about arenas where you can observe video gamers competing. The term, I found out, is esports, and it's becoming huge. Want more evidence? Game developers and even colleges are now awarding scholarships to top gamers, recruited to play on the school's esports team.

"WHAT?!?! Shut the front door!" (This is an exact quote from me, as I forwarded the story link to my teenagers...)

But if you think about it, it makes sense...while kids used to spend hours and hours on the basketball court practicing to make it into the NBA (some still do, for sure), more and more kids are spending time in League of Legends or Minecraft. It logically follows that stars would emerge and systems to reward the best gamers would be created. And, as we do with professional basketball players, we want to watch the best gamers compete and flex their finely tuned hand/eye coordination against each other.

I'm not sure that we'll see our cities' football stadiums converted to gaming stadiums any time soon, but don't count out esports as our future national pastime.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finding seashells

Life. I don't know why I'm constantly amazed at how it gets in the way of the important work of reflection. November was such a tough month, and also a fantastic month, but the end result was no blog posts. I logged in today because I wanted to write another post, but first I need to write this one.

When I started Tandem Learning in 2008, I used blogging to document my founder journey. Over the years, it has evolved to be less about selling and documenting my professional journey, and more about documenting MY journey. I now write about things that move me, interest me, challenge my thinking and this blog is my documented reflection time, my place and space to dump out the clutter in my brain and try to make sense of it with words and grammar and, sometimes, editing.

I still think of blogging as a release and synthesis, and am shocked that anyone at all reads what I write. Sometimes I write when I'm angry or frustrated or sad and I don't know how else to process my feelings. Sometimes I write when I have an epiphany and need to write it down. Sometimes I write because I'm preparing for a service at USSB and this is my "writing repository," so I post it as a blog post. Sometimes I still use this blog for professional observations, critique and sharing. The key theme for all of my blog posts is reflection and learning. Reflection is how you process and learn, thinking back on situations or emotions and giving them meaning. What am I learning? What does it all mean?

So when a month goes by and I haven't blogged at all, it makes me pause. Am I learning as much without that point of reflection? How am I synthesizing everything that is happening without taking the time to write about it and give it meaning?

More than a month has gone by. In that time, I've experienced major shifts in my professional life, witnessed great achievements from my kids. I've participated in another startup weekend. And in the
world...Measure P was voted down. Ferguson. The Rolling Stone article on campus rape and UVA. GamerGate. Eric Garner. Thanksgiving. My amazing husband turned 40. Maybe it's just been too much to process. Maybe it's too early to reflect. Maybe it's easier when there is so much going on to just be, to let it wash over me and recede like ocean waves, to wait and see what remains washed up on the shore, those bits of shell and beach glass that remain. It's time to pick up and examine those bits, the important things that move me and change me.

I don't know if the storm is over, but it does feel like it's time to reflect and discern meaning. It's time to do the work. It's time to blog again. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Uncanny Valley and #ReneeZellweger

Yesterday the news was filled with photos of Renee Zellweger. Lots of people have weighed in on her new look; my reaction is "live and let live." My only hope for her is that she is happy and ignoring the Internet right now. In my opinion, she is and was always beautiful.

Why are people reacting so strongly to her change in appearance? I was fascinated by the collective reaction and discussion. It reminded me of the Uncanny Valley, people's simultaneous attraction/revulsion reaction to things that are "almost" human, particularly virtual or robotic representations. Basically, people get creeped out. Check out this article for some examples.

I'm not suggesting that Renee Zellweger doesn't look human, but I am suggesting that she doesn't look like the Renee Zellweger we remember from Bridget Jones or Jerry McGuire. We have an expectation of the visual representation of "Renee Zellweger" and her new appearance looks "almost Renee Zellweger," just as many realistic human robots look "almost human."

It's that violation of our expectations that causes our reaction, that "close but not quite" feeling, causing us to make comparisons of what we're seeing to what we have seen and try to hone in on what is different. It's a tension that we struggle to resolve, and when we can't, we are revulsed, creeped out, angry or sad.

As an immersive learning designer, it's a good reminder that people have a deep, immediate emotional response when their expectations are violated, especially to discrepancy or changes in characters, often in a negative way. As a human being, it's a good reminder to be gentle with each other, and today, to be gentle with Renee Zellweger.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Open and honest questions

On Saturday I attended a retreat on how to ask open and honest questions as part of my ongoing learning and growth as a member of the Worship Committee at USSB. 

It sounds so easy! Open and honest seems like such a natural extension of being a good listener, no? 

Actually, no.

The goal of open and honest questions are to help the person you are listening to deepen their thinking and understanding of the situation they are sharing with you. They are questions in service of the speaker, a gift you can give to help someone better process their thoughts, think differently about a situation, or reach their own epiphany. 

Why are they so difficult? Because we typically ask questions in service of ourselves, the listener. We ask inquiring questions to satisfy our curiosity. We ask diagnostic questions to try to identify the problem and solution ourselves. We ask leading questions to "encourage" the speaker to see our perspective on a situation, or apply our opinions as a possible solution. In short, open and honest questions are difficult because as we listen we are really preparing for what to say next, how to engage in the conversation in a meaningful way but in a way that ultimately serves ourselves. 

Open and honest questions require you to listen deeply to what someone is saying, to hear the themes, and to identify questions in service to the person speaking. For example, after sharing a difficult situation about my children, one of my group members asked, "How would you define your role as a mom in this situation?" That question allowed me to think more deeply about what my responsibility is, and isn't, in relationship to the decisions my kiddo is making. It wasn't a question that gave an opinion or asked for more detail about the situation; it was a question that made me think. 

Open and honest questions are the ones that make you pause when they are asked, a total body response as the question "lands" on you, and the best ones are questions that hit at the core of the answers you yourself need to be able to find.  In that vein, one of the most interesting challenges of open and honest questions is that the questioner shouldn't necessarily expect an immediate response. When someone asks you the question you need to answer, it might actually take awhile. Even if the answer isn't immediate, the work is going on inside. 

How can we incorporate more open and honest questions into training and learning? Isn't this the core of motivation and behavior change? How can we marry open and honest questions with training content to get to not just the what, but also the how and why of change?

Monday, September 22, 2014

My activist heart

I was Worship Associate at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara yesterday and as part of the service, I not only got to be the voice of Mother Earth (!), but I also delivered this reflection on the tension of wanting to devote your life to making the world a better place and the daily demands of life.
You might not think by looking at me that I am an activist.

In college I worked in inner city schools in Lansing, Michigan to try to prepare the kids they deemed “disadvantaged” to go to college. Later, after grad school, I quit my corporate Training Manager job and helped start a charter school in Philadelphia based on the radical constructivist educational beliefs of Paolo Freire. I’ve participated in pro-choice rallies and I even got to sit in the office of the Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania and explain how the legislation they were passing to heavily regulate women’s health facilities would impact the women of Pennsylvania.  I financially support several grassroots and lobbying organizations that support movements like equality, clean water and climate change.  On Martin Luther King Day, I take my children to work on projects in the community.

I’m proud to be a Unitarian Universalist, in part, because of our history and beliefs rooted in social justice. I am an activist in the deepest part of my being, wanting to change the world, leaving it better than when I came into it.

There’s another side to the story, though. I don’t know what happened to those kids I tutored in Lansing…I graduated before most of them would have ever even applied to college. Two years after helping start Freire Charter School, I had to leave and get a “real job” because I couldn’t afford my student loan payments. That legislation in Pennsylvania passed and many, many clinics that had provided abortion services were forced to close their doors. By that time, I was accepting the job that moved me here to Carpinteria.

I want to be an activist, I want to stand up for my liberal beliefs, I want to make the world better, and yet the demands of daily life: my financial obligations, the things I want to be able to provide to my children and the things that simply bring me joy…these things are in constant competition with this feeling that I can, and should, make a difference.

I feel this most acutely when I see the phenomenal work and effort of others. Becca Claassen, one of our own congregation, has dedicated her time, energy…her life…to her passion: protecting our water in Santa Barbara county and working against climate change. I cannot tell you how much I admire her and the work that she is doing, standing up for what she believes in. Her passion and commitment is inspiring as an example of living our principles.
Watching Becca and others who live their values makes me deeply consider if I’m practicing what I preach. We all have our unique passions that drive us, and mine is gender equality. As a woman in the tech and gaming industries, I’ve faced more bias, discrimination and harassment than even those closest to me will probably ever know. I’m not alone and gender discrimination in the workplace is just the tip of the iceberg. Recent public conversations about street harassment, rape culture in schools and college campuses and the heightened focus on domestic violence prompted by arrests and indictments of NFL players, fuel my passion to work toward gender equality. When I see the work of Wendy Davis in Texas, I long to join the cause that seeks to make this country, this world, just as safe and full of opportunity for my daughters as it is for my sons.

There is a tension. I’m not in a position that I could quit my job and dedicate my time to gender equality, even if that’s where my activist heart is. I have bills and kids and a house to take care of and commitments to honor to my family and to myself.

What can I do? For me, the sentiment “Think global, act local” rings true. Maybe today isn’t my day to change the world in a big, public way. Maybe there will never be that day. But today is the day that I can teach my children about gender bias and discrimination. It IS the day that I can raise issues in my workplace that level the playing field. It IS the day I can write blog posts, post articles via social media. It IS the day that I can offer financial support to those who are dedicating their lives to the causes I believe in. It IS the day that I can jump in when I can, to march in a rally or make canvasing calls.

Today is the day that I have shared my passions with all of you. Maybe you are a passionate feminist too…maybe there are ways we can work together and support each other. Maybe today is the day that you share what you’re passionate about with someone after the service and you make a connection that leads to action that really does make the world better.

Maybe I don’t have to be an army of one to change the world. Maybe we are the army already.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My littlest teacher

My youngest daughter, Sallie Rose, is 8 years old today.

Have you ever met someone who, as soon as you talk to them, warms your heart? Who when they listen to you, really listens and understands? Who knows just when you need a hug, or a word of encouragement? Who has an infectious and totally unselfconscious giggle? Who is wise, insightful and mature beyond her years?

I gave birth to one of those people. I wasn't sure I wanted more children after I had settled in with my two older boys (funny, now that we have six...) and I was pretty sure I was a "boy-mom." As we like to say, she snuck in there. I cried when I found out at my first ultrasound that she was a girl; I didn't think I'd know how to raise a girl.

It didn't matter what I thought I knew, or what I didn't know...Sallie has taught me. She has a heart so big it can't be contained in her little body and you can sense it whenever you are near her. She makes life better for everyone around her. I admire her strength and wisdom and most of all, her radiating love.

We find many teachers in our lives and learn different things from these people that help us grow and evolve. My daughter has been one of my greatest teachers. She gives me strength and perspective and courage.

Happy birthday, Sallie Rose. And no, you don't have to ride in your booster seat anymore :)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Immerse yourself in learning at #DevLearn 2014

It's almost DevLearn season! A few weeks ago, I wrote a reflection on why I go to DevLearn each year that was posted by the eLearning Guild, "Something New."

DevLearn 2013
This will be my 7th DevLearn in a row. Wow. My first year, in 2008, my fledgling company Tandem Learning attended as a new vendor. The conference was in San Jose and we had a booth out in the hallway, showing off 3D immersive environments for learning and our demo of a Virtual Territory for pharma sales training. We also hosted a wine reception, and it was there that I met many of the people in the learning industry that I call friends today. 

Over the years, I ran ARGs at DevLearn, hosted the Emerging Tech stage for a couple years, did pre-conference sessions, concurrent sessions, and even did the closing Ignite! keynote wearing a fabulous fascinator (the conference had moved to Vegas by then and I wanted to channel my inner showgirl).
DevLearn 2009: Dr Strangelearn ARG
I'm particularly excited about DevLearn this year. While there are lots of reasons, not least of which are getting to see Neil Tyson Degrasse keynote and the new location at the Bellagio, the main reason I'm excited about DevLearn 2014 is because this is the first year I'll be attending as an author. It was a long road to publishing my first book, Immersive Learning, and I'm really proud and excited to share the key themes of the book at DevLearn this year. 

Ignite! Closing keynote 2011
There's a few ways you can join me in exploring immersive design at DevLearn this year. First I'm hosting a concurrent session on Thurs, Oct 30th at 10:30 am to share real-world examples of how organizations are using immersive learning to improve performance. If you're attending DevLearn, I hope to see you there!

If you REALLY want to immerse yourself in immersive learning, please join me on Tuesday, October 28th for a full-day pre-conference workshop. We'll spend the day digging in to the immersive design process and you'll leave with an actionable design document. You'll learn how to do a thorough analysis which is critical and serves as the basis for your design, we'll walk through how to make decisions on theme, character development, storyline structure, feedback and scoring. 
We'll explore all of the different technologies available to deliver your immersive training. I'm really excited about this session, and hope you'll join me!

Other places I'll be at DevLearn? Look for me signing books on Thursday after my concurrent session (time tentatively set for 12:30pm) and maybe even a Morning Buzz session? Otherwise, I'll be attending sessions and looking forward to opportunities to connect with all of the brilliant people congregating at DevLearn this year.