what if you don't know what you're good at before you try it?

today's ny times had two articles that captured my attention, both for their content and mutual resonance.

freakonomics authors stephen dubner and steven levitt, in their monthly column for the paper, took on the age old question of whether practice really does make perfect. based on their review of anders ericsson's research, the answer is a resounding yes! few of us, the authors argue in their article titled "a star is made," are born with the inherent ability to achieve/perform/excel at high levels without additional practice thrown in. they note:
"This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was."
in another article on the sims, titled, "welcome to the new dollhouse," the author, seth schiesel, notes that this game, and others like it, are replacing the role that dolls used to occupy in the lives of children. schiesel includes quotes from young players and older academics alike; among them, jim gee, who posits that, "[Video games are] a great resource for them to design and think about relationships and social spaces."

where the article begins to break down, and where these game researchers and psychologists could take a lesson from the freakonomics noted above, is when gender is addressed in all too simple terms.
"Modern girls are very interested in video games, but then when they get toward high school they start to gravitate away because they begin to think that boys don't like girls who play games," said Professor Gee. "They give up their interest in video games around the same time they give up their interest in science and math and that's a real problem because boys use video games to foster an interest in technology, and if girls give that up we're going to continue to see a real gender imbalance in these areas."
levitt and dubner begin their piece by revealing that over half of european professional soccer players are born in the first three months of the year. then, at the end, explain that since the cut off for most team selections is done by calendar year, the kids who were born in december of a given year as assessed on their skill level alongside kids born in january. as the authors write:
"Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites."
shouldn't we be asking, of video games, more about the kinds of possibilities these games open up for kids who might not have thought to explore or pursue various avenues prior to playing games? what kinds of practices, identities, and rabbit-holes do these games allow kids to discover and create in ways that other activities do not? and, from a pedagogical standpoint, knowing that practice - and specifically ericsson's notion of "deliberate practice" - can develop, nurture and challenge an existing skill or talent, particularly when there is immediate and sustained feedback, what can we ask about how the girls who play video games are encouraged and supported to pursue their practice?

and finally, from the dollhouse article:
Ms. Kelleher of Carnegie Mellon said her research with school-age girls made much the same point. "If you walk into a room full of girls and ask them, 'Who wants to learn to program computers?' you don't get very many hands," she said. "But if you ask them, 'Who wants to learn how to make a movie like Pixar or perhaps something like The Sims?', you get a very different response. And fundamentally, those two activities can be the same thing."
why? and is this always the case? if yes, if no - where? why? when?

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