The Financial Value of Playing

I was at a Meetup last night watching a presentation on Augmented Reality.  The presenter talked about his credentials, what he did, and how he became interested in AR.  To be clear this guy was not a “kid”. He’s a middle aged guy, with a good job, working on cutting edge technology.  What I found funny was the slide he showed on how he had become interested in VR and AR.

Up on the slide was a picture I knew well as a kid.  My remembrance of the book on display was one that seemed old and tattered from the constant usage my copy once received.  A book of invaluable knowledge that was both cherished and nearly loved to death.  It was a book parents of my generation were concerned about, and there was even a prominent book about a gruesome murder at the time where that tome played a leading role with old people wondering what it had done to young minds. It’s funny now being 41, sitting in a room of middle aged tech professionals, as we learn about the latest technology and seeing all of our eyes light up upon the site of the cover of the original Dungeons and Dragons.

The presenter explained how he had played D and D as a kid and into college. Then in college had started to wonder if he could bring these imaginary worlds to life and had learned VRML.  From there he kept learning, experimenting, and growing up as we all do.  Now by all measure he’s a successful professional and D and D seems like a toy from the past.

When we talk to people about how they got to where they are it’s easy to focus on the things we’re “supposed” to focus on.  Work hard. Get a college degree. Solve problems, and such.  It’s all too easy to miss the tiny inspirations. The hobbies, and screwing around that we do that many times are the things that yield the inspiration for something greater.  Training teaches you how to bring dreams to life, but we rarely talk about where the dreams themselves come from.

I just wanted to offer this example as something young folks can take to heart.  30 years ago my generation “wasted” our time sitting around tables playing D and D for half our waking hours. Oddly the skills we learned define our generation in a very subtle yet profound way.  Sociologists can drone on about how globalism, and the fall of the Soviet Union shaped Generation X’s views on the world.  But I would say that if you really want to understand how our generation functions going back to the dining room tables, and school cafeterias would show that in a lot of ways we’re just doing what we did back then, just with more money and and a bigger toy box.

For the Millennials and Generation Y be careful not to listen too closely to the old people dismissing the way you relax and have fun. Games of any kind are a form of training.  They are a place where people can come together to try to mentally solve the problems that are relevant to them in their world.  Generation X huddled around tables, pouring over books, arguing about rules, and how to slay dragons.  Millennials have screamed into headphones as they fight battles with virtual avatars with teams that are put together through computer algorithms from people around the world.  It’s a different game, with different rules, and different ways to win, but that doesn’t make it not valuable.  Playing games is not the road to success unto themselves, but many times they offer the keys to open the doors to where you’re going.

10 years from now there will be a bunch of middle aged millennials sitting in a room pondering the latest cutting edge tech and the presenter will show a slide of Pikachu, and all heads will nod…


  1. I do find ‘millennial bashing’ to be exceptionally tedious. I don’t see what it is millennials do different that people my age find so irritating, nor indeed how quickly everyone forgets that they were exactly the same, that our parents told us that Nirvana and Radiohead were tuneless whingers, that Grand Theft Auto was going to spawn a generation of car thieves………

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