Author Archives: Skews Me


“The assumption that video games are a waste of time has become an outdated argument based solely on the wistful remembrances of ‘the good old days,'” writes the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development website as part of their Educational Leadership publication. “James Paul Gee (2003) tells us that ‘good games – and the games get better in this respect all the time – are crafted in ways that encourage and facilitate active and critical learning and thinking.” 1

In his national bestseller, Everything Bad Is Good For You, author Steven Johnson “thinks there are two main modes of intellectual labor that go into video gaming,” as the website notes in their article, “Manuals, or the lack thereof…” Johnson calls them probing and telescoping:

Probing is essentially exploration of the game and its possibilities.… Telescoping has more to do with the games [sic] objectives.… Probing and telescoping are essential to learning.2

Johnson explains:

One of the best ways to grasp the cognitive virtues of gameplaying is to ask committed players to describe what’s going on in their heads halfway through a long virtual adventure like Zelda or Half-Life. It’s crucial here not to ask what’s happening in the gameworld, but rather what’s happening to the players mentally: what problems they’re actively working on, what objectives they’re trying to achieve.3 Many of these goals will have been obscure in the opening sequences of the game, but by the halfway point, players have usually constructed a kind of to-do list that governs their strategy.4

Probing involves a nuanced form of exploration…that often operates below conscious awareness.5 You’re probing the physics of a world when you start detecting subtle patterns and tendencies in the way the computer is running the simulation.6 The game scholar James Paul Gee breaks probing down into a four-part process, which he calls the “probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink” cycle:

  1. The player must probe the virtual world (which involves looking around the current environment, clicking on something, or engaging ina a certain action).
  2. Based on reflection while probing and afterward, the player must form a hypothesis about what something (a text, object, artifact, event, or action) might mean in a usefully situated way.
  3. The player reprobes the world with the hypothesis in mind, seeing what effect he or she gets.
  4. The player treats this effect as feedback from the world and accepts or rethinks his or her original hypothesis

Put another way: When gamers interact with these environments, they are learning the basic procedure of the scientific method.7

Johnson refers to managing numerous simultaneous objectives as “‘telescoping’ because of the way the objects nest inside one another like a collapsed telescope.… Talented gamers have mastered the ability to keep all these varied objectives alive in their heads simultaneously.” 8 Telescoping is about “constructing the proper hierarchy of tasks and moving through the tasks in the correct sequence. It’s about perceiving relationships and determining priorities.” 9

Probing and telescoping “encourage participatory thinking and analysis, forms that challenge the mind to make sense of an environment, not just play catch-up with the acceleration curve.” 10

“There is a lot of psychological research into gender role play,” writes Aaron Turpen for the Killer Guides blog:

A fair amount of that research has looked into how children learn “gender roles” and how those roles, when reversed, can affect people.… Most of the time, role-reversal is actually healthy. This doesn’t seem to change the fact that most find it a little weird.…

There are a lot of reasons gamers might choose to play the opposite sex. Sometimes, that’s all that’s offered (think Tomb Raider) for the game itself or specific races/classes in the game. In those cases, we can generally assume the player chose to play the opposite sex because he or she wanted to play the game.…

Here are the five most common reasons given for swapping genders in RPG:

  1. I Just Don’t Want To Stare At a Dude’s Butt for Hours
  2. The Fem / Male Toons Just Look Better
  3. More Free Stuff as a Girl
  4. When I Play a Guy, Other Players Stop Hitting On Me
  5. Tired of All the Protagonists Being Male11

Urban Dictionary contributor Perceptor II provides another list of reasons:

  1. Men may play female characters because they’re treated nicer, receive more freebies and are invited to teams more often.
  2. In player-vs-player environments, female characters are often seen as weaker, and some men may seek to exploit a psychological advantage over chauvinistic players.
  3. Female players may create a male character so that they are more respected and taken more seriously, especially if they try to take on a leadership role.
  4. A male player figures that if he must look at his character’s butt the whole time, it might as well be a female one.
  5. Gays who wish to gain more sexual interest from their preferred gender.
  6. A perverse pleasure in getting an unsuspecting heterosexual person of the same gender to pursue a relationship, only to spring the surprise on them later.
  7. For some males (usually assumed to be sexually immature or frustrated), it’s a method of dominating and controlling the female body.12, i

“Information released by The Guardian reveals government agents on both sides of the Atlantic have been paying close attention to online gaming communities since at least 2008,” notes IGN.13 The Guardian writes that “real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life.” 14

“Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden describe the potential of an online game to ‘become a target-rich communication network’ where threat ‘targets hide in plain sight,’ ProPublica, the Guardian and the New York Times report in a joint investigation,” explains Time:

According to one document, in 2008 the British intelligence agency GCHQ helped bring down a crime ring selling stolen credit card information in a virtual world. Another GCHQ document describes the potential to recruit engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, and other foreign intelligence operatives by meeting their avatars in virtual worlds. An NSA document said spying on the World of Warcraft “continues to uncover potential Sigint value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing.”…

“In a World of Warcraft discussion thread started days after Snowden’s revelations first began making the news in June, a human death knight named Crrassus wondered aloud if the NSA might be monitoring the discussions,”

“If they ever read these forums,” a goblin priest named Diaya replied, “they would realize they were wasting” their time.15


i Young male gamers can be a touch on the ignorant side when it comes to gender equality.
– Alex Wilhelm, “Microsoft Publishes Sexist Form Letter To Help Dudes Convince Women To Let Them Buy An Xbox One,” TechCrunch, 27 November 2013, at (retrieved: 27 November 2013).


1 Nathan Holbert, “Shooting Aliens: The Gamer’s Guide to Thinking,” ASCD, February 2008, Volume 65, Number 5, at’s-Guide-to-Thinking.aspx (retrieved: 10 June 2012); See also: James Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), p. 46.

2 “Manuals, or the lack thereof…” 5 August 2007,, at (retrieved: 10 June 2012).

3 Steven Johnson, Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Poplular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (New York: Penguin Group, 2006, 2005), pp. 47-48.

4 Ibidem, p. 48.

5 Ibidem, p. 43.

6 Ibidem, p. 44.

7 Ibidem, p. 44-45.

8 Ibidem, p. 54.

9 Ibidem, p. 54-55.

10 Ibidem, p. 61.

11 Aaron Turpen, “Playing the Opposite Sex,” Killer Guides Blog, 31 August 2012, at (retrieved: 27 November 2013).

12 Perceptor II, “Gender Bender,” Urban Dictionary, 3 February 2008, at (retrieved: 27 November 2013).

13 Luke Karmali, “NSA Can Listen to Xbox Live, World of Warcraft Communications,” IGN, 9 December 2013, at (retrieved: 9 December 2013).

14 James Ball, “Xbox Live among game services targeted by US and UK spy agencies,” 9 December 2013, at (retrieved: 9 December 2013).

15 Denver Nicks, “NSA Snoops Online Video Games: Intelligence agencies are secretly infiltrating online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life,” Time, 9 December 2013, at (retrieved: 9 December 2013).

See also

Kevin Crosby, “Gaming Addiction,” in Tinfoil Hat,, at (retrieved: 13 November 2012).

“Buried Alive: Sexism in Gaming Is Far from Dead,” Cheat Code Central, Hayden Westfield-Bell, 7 November 2013, at (retrieved: 27 November 2013).

Related videos

“Clueless Gamer: Conan O’Brien Reviews ‘Tomb Raider’,” video at, (retrieved: 27 November 2013). (Show video)

“How the Pentagon Used Video Games to Spy on Users Worldwide,” democracynow video at, (retrieved: 23 June 2013, uploaded: 10 April 2013). (Show video)

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