Research Quest vs. Library Voice: Grand Theft Auto

This week I am starting an ongoing series of weekly posts and discussions with Chad Boeninger, from Library Voice, on the education value of a new game on sale that week or related game series. Chad is an excellent librarian and he and I engage in frequent gaming discussions. This series is an attempt to formalize some of those discussions and share them with the larger library community. We are modeling the format after what Stephen Totilo has done with his Vs. Modes over at the MTV Multiplayer.

This series is designed as a way to offer various viewpoints on new games and their related series as well as creating talking points for those who are looking to advocate for video game not simply as a service to our patrons, but as a way to enhance and improve video game’s application in education. It is our hope that the dialog will be interesting and helpful for librarians interested in video games, learning, and libraries.

And so without further ado, Grand Theft Auto IV

With news stories in the NY Times and NPR over the last 24 hours on the release of Grand Theft Auto VI (GTA4) and the months of building media by gaming outlets, it will be almost impossible for any another other game this year to match the hype and sales (and probably the controversy as well). While some may look at the game and worry for the future of our children, I look at the game and I’m thankful for the practical problem solving and critical thinking it requires.

Back at the beginning of April, Chad picked up a post by Wired’s Game|Life Chris Kohler about his experience playing GTA for the first time. Chad quoted Kohler and wrote:

  • Kohler:You have to park the car perfectly. On my second try, I got the car back with time to spare, but pulled it in the wrong way. The game told me I had to park correctly, so I tried to, but the car I’d originally arrived in was blocking the way and I couldn’t get it right. Then, while trying to adjust the car’s position, I slammed it into the wall and now it was busted up. Mission failed. What did this teach me? The next time I did this mission, I parked the first car way outside the lot, thus leaving myself a clean path to pull the bomb-car in next time.

Once you successfully make it out of this mission, you’ll have learned a great deal about the rules of the game. As such, accomplishing all of this was a great feeling.

Boeninger: Yes, while the Grand Theft Auto series is controversial and a bit violent, this excerpt is a prime example the learning process in video games.

Now I do not disagree that the GTA series has some educational value, it is not in the trail and error method that Kohler described. Grand Theft Auto III series of games were not good teachers. Sure the games provided the player with an opportunity to try a new skill, in Kohler's example driving without crashing, but the game left it up to you to lean the skills. While the player's actions certainly had consequences (scratched car = failed mission) there was not a supporting structure their to practice the skill. Unlike a game like God of War were skills are slowing doled out with directions and practice or Zelda Twilight Princess that sets you on a ranch to practice and learn your skills.

Grand Theft Auto is the teacher who asks the question and when the wrong answer is given, quietly sits and waits for the right answer to appear. Giving the student / player the space and allowing them to make their own connections.

That space is where GTA succeeds in educational value. Every corner is filled with potential problems or fun events and it is necessary to think critically about a range of possible solutions to any given problem. GTA allows the player space to apply critical thinking skills to the world and seek out any number of possible solutions to a problem.

This problem solving creativity was highlighted by Kohler, Jeremy Parish, and others on this past week's Retronauts video game podcast. They describe parking cars at the exist before starting a mission to prevent the character from escaping. This open ended and forward thinking problem solving exists in most missions allowing the player to create their own game based on preferences but also live with the consequences.

GTA series does have educational value, but it is not a good teacher. It creates a world of possibilities and asks the player to think of creative solutions and how those choices affect the world around the character.

Chad is GTA a teacher or is it a classroom waiting to students to explore?

GTA Box art from Global Nerdy


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Anonymous said...

i've used to paly that, I never finish it, yet i like the review, nice blog keep it up...

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Anonymous said...

Good JOb! :)

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Its a sensible look at an old age problem, good work.

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