Saturday, May 12, 2007

Games - cracking the door open

I had an interesting conversation with my third graders this past week.

It involved talk about video games, especially violent ones. I had noticed a lot of them wrote, and even blogged about their plans and then experiences playing PS2, WII, XBox, and so on. Lots of talk about Halo and Halo 2. Now I am not a game player at all (like zero), but I know that's a pretty violent one, and you're supposed to be 16, or 18 - or something. These kids are 8 and 9. So one morning I asked them about their game playing. It was as if I had lifted the lid on another world that they were all too eager to talk about. Lots of bravado, talk of levels, scores, and kills (!), especially from the boys - but I did manage to ask some yes/no questions, the answers to which disturbed me. Over half the class said they regularly play violent video games. There was this sort of guilty, cringey feeling I could see going around as they looked at each other and admitted (confessed) this to their teacher (good, I thought). I asked if their parents thought this was OK, and most said yes. So then of course I had to ask about their parents.... A clear majority of my class said their parents regularly played video games. I asked about dads - about 3/4 of the hands went up. I asked about moms - over 1/3 of the hands went up. I nodded my head, the teacher just asking about their lives outside of school, appreciating their honesty, saying we ought to talk more about this, etc. I did tell them that I was bothered by this, that I did not think it was good for them to spend so much time with violent games.... But I was truly stunned.

Lots of big time edtech bloggers talk about the potential of video games in education. I suppose that is so, since the kids spend so much of their time in that world. But man, do I have a long way to go. Now, are we talking Halo for third graders? Not likely, but I wonder what the educational world can ever tap into in games that will even come close the the addictive lure of violence my kids (and their parents) are so captivated by?

Maybe some educators are thinking that replicating the game playing medium somehow in school will draw kids back into the educational system. I understand that line of thinking, certainly. But my gut tells me kids are more drawn by the violent content than the slick interface. I hope I'm wrong. It does not feel good going down this road.


Sarah said...

Just this morning I was reading a book.(If Men Could Talk, Gratch) (yes, perhaps tame in a video crazed need for excitement world) it actually is a book about understanding men, on the surface an odd choice... but I was reading as a part of looking at my perceptions...anyway the writer talked about how many murders one will watch before the age of 20. (On tv, gaming, etc.) This in a section of the book around aggression and our culture. He was following a different line than I took, but I just kept thinking about this quote..."by the time he turns 18, the average American boy has watched about twenty-six thousand television murders, almost all of which are committed by men. ..." And I keep going back to a holiday chat with a brother in law in which he said maybe these gaming images toughed up, or allowed a fantasy playing field for aggression. To me it just seems part of certain things remaining unconscious or perhaps as hidden agendas(curriculums), do we look at the implications of these kinds of activities? But I was actually equally shocked because at a party with family and friends many males talked about liking to play these games, it had never occurred to me that adults were into this...and I was oddly wondering about what this is about . If you reinforce these games ...ah well. I don't get it.
Years ago to my 1st graders I made a reference to Chucky, it was during the Rugrats years and a character on the show to me but to them it was my horror to find out they all heard the slasher one, that chucky. And worse learning that parents had exposed them to this. At 6. At least a significant number. Resisting the urge to lecture I simply backed away to think.
And I'm still thinking.

Matt Horne said...

I was one of those kids. I'm 25 and I grew up watching the slasher movies and playing Doom, and Duke Nukem, and Halo (I still like Halo). We're only beginning to see what my generation (the video-game generation, if you will) will be like in the workforce and in society.

My case is entirely anecdotal, but even after growing up playing all these games and watching all these movies. I now am a bilingual, ESL teacher at a middle school. I am half-way through a master's degree in administration. I am the father of a perfect baby boy. My life turned out fabulous and I've never had any negative reprecussions from my experiences with violent media.

On the contrary, there is some research emerging about our "video-game generation" (sorry I can't quote who it's by, I don't remember) that says that the increased amount of video games leads young adults to be better and faster problem solvers and more efficient multitaskers. If you think about it, every second that you are playing a role-playing style video game you are are analyzing risks, making decisions, viewing the outcomes, and reanalyzing risks. Often this process is happening on several different cognitive levels during a game. These are amazing skills to bring to the world.

I get people puzzling to me all the time about how I can do so many things at once. Frequently, I'll be carrying on a video conversation with someone on Skype, composing an e-mail, reading a webpage, drinking coffee, waving at passers-by, listening to talk radio, and creating a to-do list, all at the same time. Are these good skills to have? I don't know, but they sure allow me to get a lot more done in a lot less time.

I suppose the argument can be made that my quality of life is not as good as someone who stops to smell the roses. I can do that too, video games did not make me so ADD that I can't settle down every once in a while.

I believe that in the future, people will be expected, even required to be able to possess these skills. Perhaps violent video games are not the answer, but they may not be as anti-educational as they appear at face value either.

Jeff Allen said...


You pose some interesting quesitons and concerns. I think we need to look at why students are so engaged in video games. When you think about it...
* when playing a game there are clear objectives
* players are getting ongoing formative assessment and feedback as they work towards the goal
* they are encouraged to try new tactics and strategies
* it is ok to fail or make mistakes, because you can always try again

Think about the classroom that had these characteristics. Video game publishers actually spend a good deal of their R&D dollars on learning research.

Although I'm not to keen on the first person shooter games like Halo (and I'll admit, my 14 year old son is a player), I think that certain types of video games do have a place in our classrooms, particularly simulation type games. Look to the titles that Sid Meier and Will Wright have produced over the years... SimCity, SimEarth, Civilization. These simulation games allow students to think and experiment with different strategies in solving problems. My son and I are particularly excited about Will Wright's new game Spore. It takes simulation games to a new level where you can create a civilization, and then have that civilization interact with those build by other players over the Internet.

As I said, I to am concerned about the amount of time and type of games students are playing, but I also believe that there are lessons we can learn and apply to the classroom.

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued to discover that one of my second grade students plays video games like this. Of course, many of my students do, but I was particularly surprised by this one. This is the kid from the devoutly Christian family who goes through the Scholastic book club flyer scribbling all over the books that he knows his parents will think are inappropriate - books like Harry Potter - anything that even remotely mentions magic. (So far, his parents must not be aware that he is reading Magic Treehouse books in his reading group!)

Tom Hoffman said...

I wouldn't single out Halo as a particularly violent game. You're essentially shooting robots and sci-fi vehicles, as far as I know. I have some concerns about very realistic games where you're clearly shooting humans in natural surroundings (and really, I'm more worried about, say, WoW teaching kids to be consumers than killers), and I'm not saying it is totally ok for young kids to play Halo, but I wouldn't find that specific game as something to be alarmed about.

Mark Ahlness said...

I should have known better than to post on something I know so little about. This little experience is just one more wake up call for me. The learning must never end. Thanks for the comments, one and all. See ya in Second Life - yes, I'm there, currently learning how to land more gently after flying - Billy Brennon

Anonymous said...

I hear a lot from my group of 5th graders on this, that's for sure.

I see some real potential for these types of games. Take a look at this, for example.

Still in BETA, though, I think.

Anonymous said...

Do you think it is the violence they are attracted to or the game play which incorporates the violence? I pose this question because I recently started working for Big Brainz, that makes the educational video game Timez Attack that is focused on teaching multiplication tables. In fact if you get the chance you should check it out—there is a base version completely free. In personally working with homeschool moms, teachers, and parents I have found that there are numerous kids that absolutely adore the game! And in light of this the company refuses to involve any real violence. The creator of Timez Attack, Ben Harrison, formally worked with Sony and knows what kids like and what works. I know it is possible to have a high-end video game that kids beg to play and yet has true educational value to it. But you’re right, the industry has a long way to go before there are enough games that are entertaining and not violent to over rule what the kids are currently playing.

Sarah said...

Hey...this was all very interesting.
Thank you.

Good thing I like to think a long time.
a long time.

I teach in pretty raw gang violence.Have seen murders, this kind of thing. I would might be interested in working in this end of things. (Lots of shooting killing jail for real.)
So at times my perspectives are different, as I see what I do.
I mean how many writing here have dealt with...this? Maybe? But, too, my belief is a societal desensitization to violence is a real issue...but I could be just wrong to want to look at violence based games and watching murders as a routine. Maybe that's just something I can't quite integrate..and be "fair".
Or...I could be correct. It seems worth my taking some time to investigate.
My gut tells me it's a very real issue. Our capacity to draw lines seems pretty damn weak.
I could be missing multi-tasking and rapid brain stuff...and lots of things....but I will say America, what I've worked in, has been intolerably violent.( Also having been raped, 2 year old 2nd cousin violently sexually murdered by the neighbor, brother killed in war, uncle killed in war, having several gun incidents in school workplaces, several friends children shot dead, father mugged,gee...maybe ten to 40 students killed by guns... grandmother mugged violently-at 75 arm and leg broken by a 13 year old for 5 get the drift)

I have great life, kids, all the good stuff too.... non gaming....and I'm not fabulous but kind of happy...yet...look above...and the kids aren't going to the mall is affected in wider senses too. And my brother in law honestly feels this also serves very good purposes and I have to stretch to understand this too.

And I do wonder about it all.I'm saying it's important to create a way to gentle things to make it safe for kids to be outside... not so civilized our world, to me it's almost unbelievable how South Central LA really is...well I'm kind of personally centered on this's something I find as a person connected to... our pursuit of this together....understanding each other. i respect I may not get this.
So I look at things that seem odd. Like playing killing games. I find it a contradiction to not look at it. Closely, in children.I'm thinking.But looking because you are so correct so many are as soft as any people I've ever met. So I may not have an understanding at all.

I am thinking.Thanks for sharing and gentleman, for letting me hear from you. It was helpful in the extreme. Extremely so..I never would have thought this way...You should all read the Gratch book. Really. I mean this. Very interesting. I have valued it and found it helpful.agrvyiw

Ewan McIntosh said...

Just wanted to offer a link to some of the research into gaming for learning that we have been using in setting up our gaming strategies:

This summer/early autumn we'll be launching a new element at LTS which will cover this area in way to allow teachers to crack open the door without too many headaches ;-)

Ewan McIntosh said...

Meant to leave a cocomment stamp on that and forgot :-(