Are Video Games Evil?

Are Video Games Evil?

I saw this on Friday from Steven Bell’s blog and on Monday The Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog picked it up. It is a good article and a great introduction to the educational uses of games for someone new.

Video games are easy to target, just as music, comics, even (as the article mentions) pinball were in the past. As I’ve written before, when a fringe medium moves into the mainstream there is an adjustment period. The current controversy over Rockstar’s Bully is a good example of this. Without playing the game, many have cried “murder simulators” and “evil.” The article makes a very important point that games provide a lot more than just fodder for gunfire (laserbeams, chainsaws, or insert violent stereotype here). We can see this as the extreme, but the difficulty is that this is how some parents, administrators and faculty feel about video games. I hope I’m in the minority, and someday I believe I will be, but I can name a handful faculty at my college that do not let their children play video games let alone bring them into the classroom. For those situations, it is a matter of framing the dialogue. “Introducing software” that helps teach higher level skills and critical thinking – is welcomed. Just changing the language and jettisoning any preexisting connotations is a start.

The article makes the wonderful point that video games “do” teach, it is up to us to determine the “what” and “how.” Because we are teaching digitally immersed students, games are just a way to communicate through an understood medium. The article draws this comparison as well, DDR is Twister, The Sims is just playing house. If we view video games as just another instructional technology, why shouldn’t we incorporate it into class? Games are not the “magic bullet” but they should be another tool in our repertoire as teachers. Not every lesson should involve video games and/or strategies, just as not every lesson should be lecture or small group. Or worse, video games should not be the new power point. Part of the motivation for games is the ‘fun’ factor, once we suck that out they are just another software package forced on students.

The idea of testing a hypothesis to a problem based on the given information, and testing again once it fails sounds great and it is just as valid running through the fields of Hyrule or the streets of Liberty City as it is in a traditional classroom. We just need to continue to find ways to tap into that interest and exploration. The work of Steven Johnson, James Paul Gee and others are included in the discussion.

The one idea that I challenge is the fact that gamers are bound to the rules of the game and that teaching to succeed with the existing bounds is a key piece of video games. While understanding the dynamics of an environment (either the physics of a game world or the politics of the regular world) is important – and often necessary for success, a gamers ability to reinterpret those limits is the difference between good and excellent. Pushing the boundaries, discovering new combinations and exploiting new ideas is the result of the freedom and motivation that games provide. Getting our students to think beyond the defined boundaries of any discussion is a wonderful step toward success. As a librarian, getting my students to think beyond one article or one source and critically analyze is a great step in information fluency.

Games are so much more than hand-eye coordination. If you are reading this blog, you hopefully know that as well. Getting this article into the hands of those unconvinced is a great start to helping our digital students succeed.