VIDEO GAMES AND LEARNING
Today’s generation of learners are constantly bombarded by media imagery. Whether they are in the movie theater, watching T.V. at home, or playing video games, the fact remains that they are constantly exposed to an almost endless visual stream of information. This constant exposure to a steady stream of changing imagery and constant information is something that has been taken advantage of by many professions – sadly, education is not one of them. Beyond showing an occasional documentary or play, education practices in general have not used new media as a means to improve teaching.
One of the mediums of electronic representation which has great potential as a teaching tool is the video game. It has often been stated that video games help enhance literacy skills (Gee 2003 – 2006, Johnson 2005), help students develop language skills (Din 2000, Hansson 2005), and teach players about the content presented in the game (Grodal 2003, Johnson 2005). Furthermore, it has often been argued that video games can be used to actively transmit elevated ideas and persuade people to take certain stances (Bogost 2007) and that the narrative elements in a video game make them the highest form of interactive narrative to date (Stephen Meadows 2003), as well as instrument worthy of critical commentary (Murray 1997). Some have even suggested theoretical frameworks by which to analyze video games (Aarseth 1997, Juul 2005). With all of this in mind educators should consider using video games in their classroom. Even though video games are looked at by most of the population as childish means of entertainment, it is noticeable both by observation of the design of the games, as well as by the level of interest shown in a certain puzzle in a game by a player, that when engaging in play individuals are actively processing information, using critical thinking skills, putting into practice creative problem-solving strategies, and, depending on the game, making moral decisions and actively engaging with language. It is these qualities which can be exploited in the classroom.
Certainly, to argue that all games can be used in the classroom would be an irresponsible statement; but many games of specific genres – mainly RPGs, historic strategy, and Adventure games – can be incorporated into the classroom with varying degrees of success. When integrating role playing games into language classes teachers and students can benefit from the rich narrative and deep character development presented in these games. Role playing games are a type of video game which focus on story arcs instead of on full interactive freedom. In these games interaction is achieved through exploration, conversation, and decision making during certain turning points. However, most of the story has been already scripted by the designers and isolated into different events which unfold in a branching-tree narrative structure. These games often have over 60 hours of pre-recorded dialogue, which make basic listening comprehension a base requirement when playing, and large amounts of text dialogue, which make basic reading knowledge a pre-requisite for this kind of game. Despite the basic linguistic knowledge required for the enjoyment of this kind of game, they can be applied as teaching tools for any classroom with basic to intermediate skill level students. Likewise, history teachers can use historic strategy games in order to enhance the teaching of their classes. Games like Ages of Empire and Civilization are often virtual representations of actual history, often citing real documents and re-enacting recorded historical events. Some titles even allow the player to experience possible alternate histories that may have happened under certain circumstances. Student engagement with this technology is sure to make history class more active and interactive than when using traditional “banking” education approaches.
The educational value of games, however, does not end with the history or language class. Some video games allow the player to actively participate in the game’s creation process, offering the player some real-life experience to software development. Some games offer quizzes which have been designed by neurologists and psychologists in order to measure brain activity. These quizzes consist of short exercises of reasoning and logic, and often result in improved math proficiency in the part of students. Finally, all video games – whether they are urging the player on a quest to heal a post-nuclear world, to prepare for Ragnarok, or become a lawyer or a doctor, one thing that most video games have in common is that they actively force the player to learn something new in order to advance in the game. When this principle, known amongst teachers as the I + 1 approach, is applied to education students end up having a great learning experience. It seems, however, that game developers have mastered how to apply the I + 1 concept better than educators have, since if a game is not challenging enough or too challenging it will fail – both critically and commercially. Perhaps it is time for teachers to learn from games, use them as teaching tools, and exploit their educational potential. After all, if society evolves, it is the duty of educators to evolve with it and use updated teaching strategies in order to engage students in the learning process, not to keep using outdated methods which result in high drop-out rates and low educational standards.
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