Kids, Brains and Games: a Ted Talk

Kids, Brains and Games: a Ted Talk


Like many of you, I’m a huge fan of the Ted conferences and am in awe of the success they’ve had in spreading awesome ideas. So when earlier this year I was invited to give a talk at TedX Kids in Brussels, I rearranged my hectic schedule and set to work on a new talk. Walter and Misha – the awesome organizers – pulled together an all-star group of speakers and experts who presented talks, multi-media performances, and hands-on workshops and experiments with the kids themselves.

The event itself was inspiring on many levels. The talks were impassioned and brilliant, the kids experimented with and built a whole bunch of cool concepts, and it pushed me to build a narrative around a subject that I’ve long been passionate about: human intelligence and the brain. My session seemed well-received at the time, and this week was promoted to a featured talk on the Ted homepage. Here’s the session if you haven’t seen it – a quick review of the effect of games on children’s (and all our) brains:

I tried to briefly answer three questions that parents often have for me at and after my talks:

How can my kids turn their love of games into a career?
Should I be worried about my kids’ game play?
How can I understand / get more involved in their game lives?

As the gamification discussion has expanded to including marketing, strategy, the enterprise, health and education, I’ve found myself increasingly going back to, leveraging and updating the work I did as an undergrad at the University of Waterloo to answer these and other questions. I entered the school in a special program to study artificial intelligence, and ended up becoming infatuated with human intelligence – a subject my advisors had wisely suggested I study first. I ended up writing my thesis on gifted kids and the effect of labeling on their social/emotional affect; it was heavy but fun stuff.

Because gamified design relies heavily on behavioral economics and psychology (as well as game design and loyalty), I’ve found myself spending a great deal of time in familiar (but substantially updated) territory: thinking about the inherent skills and abilities of people and how to motivate them to change. Much of the science has been radically rethought (including brain plasticity, the extent of which has only recently been revealed), but much of it is fundamentally the same. If we see the complex interplay of hereditary and environmental (or intrinsic and extrinsic) factors on a continuum, we will be best able to design gamified experiences that motivate the change we want to see.

As this exciting field evolves, we’ll continue to look at the science of games and Gamification and how they affect our physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional development. It’s a topic that I find personally exciting, and I’m sure we’ll all be profoundly changed by this dynamic trend.


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  1. Gabe, used your talk in my daily read.
    The work of humanity is shifting from primarily physical to cognitive and games are at the front of that trend. Wither they go, the rest of humanity will be following.

  2. I loved your talk, but have a questions!!
    You stated that “video games are the primary source of entertainment that generation G is consuming.” I would love to believe this but my research suggests the contrary.

    This source states the following:

    “Types of media kids consume: TV remains the dominant type of media content consumed, at 4:29 a day, followed by music/audio at 2:31, computers at 1:29, video games at 1:13, print at :38, and movies at :25 a day.”

    It would be super helpful if you could share the research behind your statement!!