Using our sense of wonder

In Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, Karl Kapp reveals some of the wonderful ways his "Gamer 4.0 son" plays computer games. His son wonders if he has to fly the jet off the aircraft carrier or whether he can taxi all the way across the water. He wonders if the customer satisfaction rating in Roller Coaster Tycoon can be amped up by drowning the unhappy customers in the theme park pond.

This sense of wonder is usually schooled out of us. Control systems breakdown when the participants operate with a sense of wonder. The system can only handle our conformity, compliance and consistency. We get punished for pushing people's hot buttons and penalized for finding out how much we can get away with. We're taught to "be nice", "stop asking so many questions" and "not wonder about that thing that seems wrong".

A sense of wonder inspires us to test the limits, explore the consequences and look for loopholes. We wonder how far we can go like this, what trouble we'll get into if we try that and which deviant maneuvers have been overlooked by the system. We use a sense of wonder to think outside the box.

Our sense of wonder is also called possibility thinking or finding freedom within constraints. It's the way innovators create opportunities and change the status quo. When we wonder, we stop assuming and "expecting the expected". We challenge our preconceptions and doubt the sanity of our consensus with others. We think "why not?" instead of "why it has to be this way".

Unlike schools and control systems, games reward us for using our sense wonder. We find the exit, defeat the opponent, or achieve a higher score when we fail to assume the obvious. We reach higher levels, face bigger challenges and control more territory when we proceed with curiosity and suspicion.

Our sense of wonder has a dark side. A scam artist looking for the next sucker uses a sense of wonder. Rather than assume that people have the sense to not fall for the scam, the rip-off racketeer simply wonders who is sufficiently naive, gullible or needy to ignore the signs of deception, exploitation and betrayal.

A sense of wonder also makes us indignant at getting gamed by the system. We wonder where people are coming from and see their subtle intentions to control us. We feel we're being played like a pawn on a chessboard and wonder why this seems like a good idea to them. We become antagonistic and alienated by using our sense of wonder in a system that penalizes it.

I'm now wondering if times are changing. Perhaps a new generation will enter the workforce in another decade with their sense of wonder intact. I wonder if stupid games will come to an end as Gamer 4.0 employees will expect authentic challenges and rewards for using their sense of wonder like games have done all their lives?

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