Recently I had an opportunity to visit a school for a daylong workshop, where I got to meet with the kids during the day, and their parents at night. I love it when this happens because I can then ask the children what they struggle most about with their parents regarding technology. So during the course of the morning I asked over 425 5th, 6th, and 7th graders what I should help their parent understand about technology. I got lots of great answers from them all, and my favorite one came when one 7th grader raised his hand and said, “can you please explain to my parents that multiplayer video games have no save?”
There are several reasons why that request is actually brilliant, but the one I want to focus on is how this statement, and a person’s frustration at being asked to log off in the midst of a multiplayer video game may be a forward edge transference.
The term “forward edge transference” comes from Marian Elson’s work in self-psychology. She has described the forward edge transference as being akin to what Kohut was talking with his interns about when he described leading edge transference. Forward edge transferences, according to Tolpin, are tendrils of psychological growth in the patient, often hard to see, if not completely overlooked, by the therapist because they don’t look like growth. Often we consider “psychological growth” as in the eye of the beholder, whether it be therapist, parent, teacher or someone else other than the patient. One of the example’s Tolpin uses is that of a patient who cuts to be able to “feel,” and to bleed. The forward edge transference there in Tolpin’s estimation, is the self’s still healthy yearning for kinship, to “bleed like everyone else.”
I use this example because it very powerfully demonstrates how even an easily pathologized concern such as cutting, could indicate a tendril of healthy growth, easily overlooked. The behavior forward edge transference travels concealed within is glaringly “obvious” to us, and because of that forward edge transferences may be misunderstood, and the striving for psychological health get stymied.
So what does this have to do with Massively Multiplayer Online Games?
As I mention in my book MMOs are a form of social media, and collaborative play, where the player is often cooperating with a group of others in a raid or guild to achieve something that could not be accomplished individually. Whether it be downing a dragon in World of Warcraft, unlocking guild achievements, or building a city overnight in Minecraft, the player is part of a larger group. They matter to the larger group.
Embedded in the comment “multiplayer has no save” is the forward transference for a sense of kinship, and more specifically the dawning of a concept of being a digital citizen. Here is an adolescent saying that they understand their behavior has an impact on others, that they want to collaborate online, and that they feel responsible to the larger group. Saying in fact what all the adults around them have been trumpeting for over a decade of their lives in most cases.
A digital citizen is defined in Wikipedia as “a person utilizing information technology (IT) in order to engage in society, politics, and government participation.” To be a digital citizen requires “extensive skills, knowledge, and access of using the internet through computers, mobile phones, and web-ready devices to interact…” And the elements of digital citizenship per digitalcitizenship.net include:
- Digital Access:full electronic participation in society.
- Digital Commerce:electronic buying and selling of goods.
- Digital Communication: electronic exchange of information.
- Digital Literacy:process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology.
- Digital Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure.
- Digital Law:electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
- Digital Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.
- Digital Health & Wellness:physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.
- Digital Security (self-protection):electronic precautions to guarantee safety.
Here’s the rub: If you look at those elements, many of the adults charged with caring for and educating the young aren’t necessarily competent digital citizens themselves. I can tell you for a fact that I have participated over the past decade with professionals and peers on listservs and bulletin boards, and have seen appalling standards for conduct and procedure. It rivals anything I’ve seen adolescents do to each other.
We live in interesting times, when we are entrusted to educate youth about a technology when we often don’t know how to use socially and effectively ourselves. We tell them not to interrupt, then answer our cell-phones in the middle of them telling us about their day. We tell them to pay attention to us even as we’re checking our emails on the Blackberry. We stalk them on Facebook to censor them in one browser window, and post embarrasing pictures and comments of them in another. And we pull the plug on them while they’re playing an MMO even as we tell them that they’ve been inconsiderate of their younger sibling who wants a “turn.”
Part of the problem here is our neophyte digital citizenship. People from older generations tend to think of video games as this:
when they’re actually more like this:
When was the last time you showed up at your daughter’s basketball game in the 3rd quarter and told her, “you’ve been on the court long enough, you’re coming home?” And yet, we do this to kids online all the time, and foil their attempts to be team players and group contributors.
There’s a lot at stake here: Multiplayer has no save. 10-30 people, often from all over the world have come together to try to overcome an obstacle. When you pull the plug, you’re pulling it on all of them. It is great that our kids know this and care about it!
Most of us have wanted to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to create something together, even if it is just one moment or memory with others. We need to look at video games without the Pong Goggles, and see it as a form of society and an opportunity for digital citizenship.
To recognize the forward edge of a transference is never an easy thing. It is small, fragile, the newest shoot of growth. In a sense, all of us on this planet are in the midst of such a tendril of growth when it comes to technology. But the time when digital literacy was optional has passed, and we need to do a better job with the next generation of digital citizens than we are doing.