Mass Effect 3 (ME3) vs. College Choice

Why Do Male Teens Seem More Interested in the Outcome of ME3 (a Virtual Future) Than Their Plans for College (Actual Future)?

For college-bound teens, the beginning of April is when the college decision process should be top-of-mind for them and their peers. The long-awaited acceptance letters are finally arriving, and the big decision of, "Where will I go to college?" is looming.

But on April 1st, my son’s 18th birthday party was abuzz with one main topic: the unsatisfying ending to the video game Mass Effect 3. Apparently, the game developer Bioware disappointed its loyal fans in the last installment of their popular game. (For readers wanting to know more about the controversy, Forbes has an informative article, "Why Fans Are So Angry About the Mass Effect 3 Ending.")  Although the latest update is that a new ending will be provided, the discussion continues.

One conversation topic was conspicuously missing at the party: College. My son's male friends were much more comfortable talking about ME3 and other videogames than the topic of college choices.

I was surprised, so I started looking for answers, which I began to find in the book Identity Shift by Allison Cerra and Christina James. They reveal that teens use social networking and video games to experiment with new identities, "...the virtual world also allows us to explore what we wish we could be in the physical sense." So teens, especially males, can express themselves with these virtual identities and discuss their virtual experiences more comfortably than their college options.  As my son says, "It’s a RPG (role playing game); we know we are taking on new identities -- that’s the point."

College - The ultimate role-play experienceAt the same party, a female classmate (also a senior) comfortably discussed her own college choice, mentioned that she tolerates the discussion of games that she is not interested in, and that it may be a phase.  She observed that her older brother dramatically reduced his gaming time upon going to college, and she observed gaming is relaxing for teens facing the pressure of the college decision and the stress of their busy calendars.

Perhaps the psychology explains the behavior, but for colleges' marketing strategies, the question remains-- How do we attract the best students for our schools, especially when their attention is divided? And, how can a college win in April if a teen has choices to pick from?

Of course the decision of where to go to college is very important for the teen, but his focus can be distracted by other issues.   However, there's one person in his life whose focus won’t be distracted-- Mom.

During this time in her child's life, education, always a focus, becomes a hyper-focus and a pressing concern for Mom. She wants her child to find the school that will "fit" her child and provide the best experience and learning. She’s eager for knowledge and willing to listen-- and she still has a lot of influence with her child.  In fact, she may be planning the logistics of "Accepted Student Day" travel visits.  Mom recognizes that the right college will allow her child to try out different future identities, through classes, internships, work/study, and clubs in the "physical world"- in some ways the ultimate "role play" experience.

Colleges' marketing strategies must recognize Mom as a very important influencer in the college choice decision. She's paying attention and she's eager for information. In future weeks, we'll continue this theme with more thoughts on college marketing strategies, helping answer the question, "How can schools win Mom?"


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  • This fascinating article by Taylor Clark in the Atlantic Monthly helps to explain the appeal and complexity of virtual worlds. It even piques my interest to play "The Witness" or "Braid"

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    Michal Clements

    Michal is co-author of Tuning Into Mom and an experienced consultant. Michal develops winning growth strategies and detailed go to market plans for some of the world’s outstanding organizations including McDonald’s, Gatorade, Abbott, Barilla, Tylenol, Clorox, Key Bank, Eagle Ottawa, Quaker and the Baker Demonstration School.

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