We hear so much about how GenZ are addicted to their phones and social media. They’re online for up to eight hours a day. Some would say that, given they notionally sleep for another eight, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to actually achieve anything.
And it’s true, they’re online a lot. You may well catch your GenZer playing an online game – Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto for example – but they aren’t just playing a game that has no purpose other than to shoot ‘em up.
Apart from anything else, the platforms are a communication tool. Go onto Xbox for example and the party chat feature means friends can chat while playing or, as happens, they simply use the tool as a way to sit around and chat via headphones and mikes. And nobody else can hear what they’re saying.
And what are they learning, while they’re playing? They’re finding out in very quick real time what happens when they make a mistake or when they think quickly and make a good call. This isn’t to say all online games are good, merely that, contrary to a lot of older grumbling, they do have some upsides.
Because 80% of online gaming ends in failure. You lose four times out of five. Loser. Does it put GenZ off? No it doesn’t, because they want to succeed, so they come back and try to play smarter, learning all the time, until they can reach the next level, then the next. Plus they get almost instant feedback into whether they are winning or the other thing. This can play out in real life in several ways.
One of the obvious ways is that it teaches them resilience, and not to fear failure. Generally speaking, GenZ don’t fear failure – in one survey, 71% of them who were contemplating starting up their own venture reckoned that they would fail, but that failure would be part of the learning curve.
But that gaming view of the world can have some immense upsides in real life. We know this from some of the most extreme situations any human could ever face. In Joe Simpson’s own story, Touching the Void, he recounts how he was left up a mountain in South America with a badly broken leg amid the snow, ice and rocks, and miles to go before he could perhaps find safety below. He crawled down, snagging his broken leg on jagged rocks. He made it a game, he said, seeing if he could make it to that boulder in 20 minutes, then that slope in 30. If he did he was encouraged. If he failed it made him more determined to succeed. He succeeded against all the odds.
That story is quite well known, so here’s another example, even more extreme. If you’ve seen the film Lone Survivor, based on a true story, then you’re familiar with the heroics of four US Navy SEALs being pursued by hundreds of Taliban high in the Afghan mountains. As the film’s title says, there was only one survivor, Marcus Luttrell.
His three teammates were eventually killed in a running, rolling fight and he managed to crawl away. He had to crawl because he’d taken 11 gunshot wounds (yes, eleven), had injuries to his head and legs and had broken his pelvis and three vertebrae in his back – amid other injuries like RPG shrapnel everywhere. Oh and he’d bitten part of his tongue off too. How he kept going through the pain and loss of blood is beyond most people, but he did. And he crawled by using his knife to mark the ground beyond his head then he’d drag forward until his feet were clear of the mark. Repeat, endlessly for seven miles of rocky, inhospitable terrain.
At one level of course that’s simply breaking the challenge down into manageable steps. As Lao Tzu remarked: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ But at another it shows a lesson that GenZ are learning by apparently playing. That small wins, quick wins, are a valuable gameplan if you want to win the big game.
And to achieve that they’re learning you also have to follow Winston Churchill’s dictum: ‘Never give in. Never, never, never.’
Maybe we should all play more.