For many years the use of video games have been looked down upon, and been thought of as a waste of time, or something that will “turn your brain to mush.”
Through recent studies and research however, we have learned that there is something about the environment, culture, and mindset that surrounds video games and other forms of gaming, that has enthralled children, taught them, and helped them improve countless skills ranging from hand eye coordination to collaboration, and even confidence when it comes to making a mistake and trying again. There are many students who in a classroom are humiliated and embarrassed after fumbling or making a simple error, however when faced with making a mistake that either takes them back a level, or restarts their video game, they are met with nothing more than a more intense and severe determination.
These complex games require each player/character to develop a deep skill set in a specific domain and know how to collaborate with other gamers. Users are inspired to use the same skills that they hate using in school and in class with such ease in the game. Video games require the learner to think in many unique ways that are not found in school. Gee explains to us that learning should be both a “frustrating and a life enhancing” experience. The video game industry is very successful because their product has evolved with the expertise of its consumer. The creators continuously make games more complex and difficult to understand and yet people are still buying them; the business is booming. Gee explains how on the contrary, education has moved in the opposite direction – over simplifying or dumbing down tests to make it easier for every student to mold themselves into this linear 20th century model. Gee refers to the idea of gaming becoming more complicated and difficult to achieve expertise to darwinism.
Check out this clip of James Paul Gee sharing his thoughts on the video game world.
When watching the clip of Gee we noticed one theme that was consistent between here and the other reading which is the concept of handing “ kids the manuals without the games.”
The fan communities that surround video games are instrumental to developing the literacy practices.
In Steinkuehler’s article “Video Games and Digital Literacy” he, like Gee in the video above, discusses the importance of fan-based collaboration. “Members of fan communities”, he writes, “collectively read and write vast cascades of multimodal text, as part of their play from communally authored user manuals, to online discussion threads, fan sites, fan fiction, and digital fan art” (61). Therefore, there is much more to the field of video gaming than just the games themselves; rather, it is the world that we, as communities, build around the games in order to create meaning. Video games, by themselves, are tools – the world we establish around them is what gives them meaning and importance in the development of our literacy and education.
On another note, Whitmore’s article discusses the actual, physical layout of an arcade space versus a school classroom. Oftentimes, teachers arrange their classrooms in ways that don’t allow for the optimum amount of student collaboration. In their case study, Whitmore and her colleagues discovered that Jeff (the teacher they observed) was well intentioned and enthusiastic, but the way his classroom floorplan was arranged could not compare to the layout of an arcade. In arcades, they describe, video games (especially the more difficult ones) are placed near one another so that children who are playing can easily look on with a friend, help someone who is stuck on a difficult level, or reach out for help themselves without having to leave their games. Even though actual video arcades are growing fewer and fewer these days, we can still see these elements of collaboration in new and emerging video games. A few of my friends play games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft and, throughout the entire game, they are constantly engaging in conversation and strategy with countless other players from all over the world. Now, instead of the limitations of the physical arcade, players can can collaborate with thousands of others from anywhere in the world without ever stepping outside their front doors.
Just think – if our students collaborated half as much in the classroom as they often do when they play video games, who knows what they might create or achieve?!
As it turns out, students, educators, and video gamers have already been forming these types of collaborations both in and out of the classroom. As the field of STEM education grows and more schools develop makers spaces that promote invention and design (even at the elementary level!), educators are beginning to see the important role that video games can play in our students lives.For the past several of years, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center has put out a challenge to young video game enthusiasts to build and create their own video games. Last year, they received over 4,000 entries from students of all ages and abilities, working with different systems and platforms to actually code and create their very own games. AND, while many critics out there complain that our children are obsessed with violent, destructive types of video games, the judges learned differently. After the results were in, 46% of the contestants created educational video games on topics ranging from math to community service.
Below, you can see screenshots from a couple of the winning games. In the first image, a tenth grader named Aaron Gaudette has created a game called “Crystal Physics” where the players attempt to gain crystals by knocking down a tower. At each level, the game teaches its players a new physics concept that they must use in order to knock down the tower:
“Crystal Physics”, created by Aaron Gaudette, a tenth grader from Germany.
Another finalist, Janice Tran (12th grader) created a game that she calls “Little Green Planet”. In the game, players must create a robot made of self-sustained materials in order to help stop a pollution-hungry villain. They must develop an extensive knowledge of environmentally-friendly tactics in the process to do so:
“Little Green Planet”, created by Janice Tran, a 12th grader from Palmdale, California.
If you want to see more of the games created by last years contest finalists, just click here!
Being that this has recently become a hot topic in both parenting worlds, and in teaching circles when thinking about children’s screen time and the integration of violence in games, there have been many researchers who have begun to look more closely into the effects action games have on their users. Below is a TED talk given by Daphne Bavelier. She researches the effects that video games have on people when looking at skills that are prevalent when involved in general learning and information processing. Through her research she has found that those who play action packed video games have significantly better visual discrimination skills, multi-tasking skills, and overall better ability to process a question asked about a visual and find the answer faster than peers who do not play action packed video games. She explains many of the tests and her process in testing the individuals in her lab in a clear and concise way. One of the tests she gives, and even gives to the audience is something you may have seen online often. An example would be seeing the word “red” written, however it is written in the color orange and you need to respond by stating the color of the text. While watching the video you have a chance to take these assessments. See how you score!
When watching the assessment seven minutes in…