I was reading the paper on Sunday (yes, people still read the newspaper) and I came across an article about teachers using video games as a centerpiece to teach specific lessons.  For example, playing Angry Birds and having kids calculate the trajectories of the birds’ flight.

I’m all for using anything that will help kids learn, no matter how unorthodox, as long as they are learning.

However, one sentence in particular caught my eye, a sentence I couldn’t let slide.

The quote was that, “video games teach children persistence.”

I’ll give them confidence and teamwork, but I take umbrage with the idea that kids are learning persistence by playing video games.

Imagine being told that you are going to spar with every student in your martial arts class, each for 2 minutes, starting from the White Belts and ending with the Black Belts, and just maybe with the Head of School, if he’s in the mood.  There at least 15 students in class, at times over 25.

You try to pace yourself, playing defensive with the lower belts and trying to conserve energy.  As your opponents become more skilled, in turn, you have to be more aggressive to keep them at bay.

There’s no let up.  Each opponent comes in fresh, while you are getting increasingly winded, unable to keep your guard up.

You are sucking wind, but the next opponents keep coming.  Sure you could quit, but you know in your heart you have to make it through the entire gauntlet. Your body wants to “say uncle,” but your mind pushes you back onto the mat.

You feel as if you are going to pass out right there in front of the whole class.  Visions of the EMT’s running through the front door to administer emergency aid are flashing through your head.

The path of least resistance is to give up, to quit, but you refuse. Instead, you ask for a minute to catch your breath.

Somehow, by your final bout you’ve miraculously found some hidden reserve of energy.  You are renewed.  You actually give the highest ranking black belt a worthy opponent.

Finally, it’s over. You get to take your gear off.

That’s how I earned every belt up to my Black Belt.

In contrast, let’s look at playing video games, which I’ve done my share of, including overnight marathons.

Each time you play a round and earn a prize you get rewarded, your dopamine system goes nuts.  The game dangles the next reward in front of your nose, a reward that you can almost just reach.  But then you die and have to start again.

That reward is still there, just out of reach.  Dopamine is released at the anticipation of reward, not the actually reward itself, and the good feeling pulls you into your next game.

This continues until you are too fatigued to play, beat the game, or your parents pull the plug.  Even so, the anticipation of a concrete, digital reward floods your brain and body, the next game beckoning.

The addictive nature of video games are a far cry from developing persistence; we wouldn’t call smokers persistent.

Persistence is built when you do things you might not want to do in the short term, for long term gain, things that at times are not pleasant, are unpleasant, are painful.  The only thing unpleasant or painful about video games is when you stop playing.

Persistence is about keeping on when everyone else would give up because it gets hard, not because you want your next hit of dopamine.

How do you learn persistence, if not through video games?

Easy, when your brain feels bad and wants to give up on something that’s not literally life-threatening. you persist.

Each time you persist, you develop persistence, and you become persistent.