One question she and the team at Kleiner Perkins asked was what does gaming prepare us for? I think it is teaching simulation to a generation who will need to become more adept at systems thinking.
The more one can play with the variables of a system, the better one understands it. To use a simple example, our company has software that lets a business unit forecast project completion dates based on shared resources and project priority. As you change the number of resources, project priorities, and how you model the use of resources within projects, the projected launch dates for these product development projects changes. One of the senior managers I once set up with this capability drove from Philadelphia down to Delaware each day for work. He told me that on his commute he would think about variables to change in order to explore what was possible to accelerate product launches. "I always sort of understood my business unit," he says, "but doing these simulations I came to understand it far better than I ever had. I learned what happened when I changed this variable or that one, what made a surprisingly big difference and what made hardly any difference and in what conditions. I understood the dynamics of the system in ways I never had before."
A great deal of what we see today shows graphs and numbers. "India is growing at 8% a year." "Smart phone sales are growing by 10% a year." What we have less experience with is simulations that allow us to change recent trends. "What might happen to its growth if India's move away from paper currency results in more theft from hackers?" "What happens to smart phone sales if they become a replacement for credit cards?"
A simulation lets us do a few things. One, it lets us play with policy ideas. Two, it lets us explore the implications of entrepreneurial initiatives. Three, it helps us to better understand the way variables might interact to create emergent behavior that is the result of a the interaction of the variables in the system rather than the actions of any one variable in the system. Simulations will never be accurate. They can, however, be informative.
We are at the infancy of systems thinking in the same way that Europeans in 1700 were in the infancy of Enlightenment thinking. We will get better at simulating and thus understanding systems, systems as varied as ecosystems, financial systems, and educational systems - the variety of systems on which we're so dependent for our quality of life.
What is gaming prepare us for? It gives people practice with countless simulations, learning how changing one thing can change another, how this strategy results in an early death and this one lets you conquer the kingdom. Gaming teaches us that systems never depend on just one variable and that outcomes can never be determined even though probabilities can be changed. Gaming will make systems thinking and systems simulation intuitive to a new generation. That's pretty cool.