Mark Fischer

3 minute read

A recent topic thread on Hypercritical with John Siracusa has been trying to answer the question “are video games an artform where its not possible for a large part of society to enjoy them fully because they lack the appropriate skill”. The example being a first person game where the player can’t enjoy the game because they lack the skill to simple move around the environment and understand the controls.

I only want to talk about a small part of this larger discussion. I agree with the premise that “a large number of people lack the skills to enjoy certain games fully.” Where I disagree with John is when we states that “it’s not possible for these people to gain the skills”.

First I want to define a few terms, so that we can be clear on them.

Skill: The ability to perform a given task to a sufficient level. An example of a skill would be the ability to write, to speak French, to talk, to dance, etc.

Talent: A natural ability that cannot be learned. An example of a talent is being 7 feet tall, being a musical savant, having a beautiful voice, etc.

I have three ideas to introduce that I don’t think were covered much in the discussion.

  1. Skill can be learned by spending time working on it.
  2. Talent affects how much time must be spent to learn a skill.
  3. Motivation affects the probability that a given individual will spend the required time to learn a skill.

So in the context of games, it may require some people more time than others to gain sufficient skill to fully appreciate the it. Those with more tallent will spend less time that those with less talent, but given sufficient time, both individuals will end up with the same skill level. Now if the person with less talent is not motivated to acquire the skill, they will give up early and not get the skill.

However the main factor governing the number of people who have the required skill is not some innate thing, it is not talent. The governing factors are time and motivation. There are undoubtedly a group of people with so little talent that it is effectively impossible for them to acquire the skill. For gaming though, I think that most people do have the talents required to learn the skills. What keeps people from actually learning the skills is that A) they just don’t want to (lack of motivation) or B) they just don’t have the time.

The end effect is the same, but the proposition that “it’s not possible for these people to gain the skills” is false. A better proposition might be “it’s not probable for these people to gain the skills”.